Kenya says will push ahead with ICC reform agenda

AP News
Posted: Nov 21, 2013 1:07 PM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Kenya's foreign minister said Thursday her country will push ahead with moves to have the International Criminal Court's founding document amended to grant sitting heads of state immunity from prosecution.

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto is on trial at the court in The Hague on charges of fomenting violence after his country's 2007 election and President Uhuru Kenyatta is scheduled to go on trial in February on similar charges. Both men insist they are innocent of involvement in the violence that left more than 1,000 people dead.

Kenya is engaged in a diplomatic push to halt the cases, arguing the country — and the volatile east African region — needs strong leadership as it battles al-Qaida-linked terrorists in neighboring Somalia.

Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told The Associated Press on Thursday that Kenya wants a special meeting of the ICC's Assembly of States Parties to discuss amending the Rome Statute that created the court.

Her comments came less than a week after the United Nations Security Council rejected a resolution calling for the Kenya cases at the ICC to be postponed for a year. The African-sponsored resolution to delay the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto was voted down with seven "yes" votes and eight abstentions — short of the minimum nine "yes" votes needed for approval.

Now Kenya is changing tack by taking aim at the court's founding statute.

"At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that the Rome Statute recognizes what we all know to be true — that heads of state and government can only be tried after their terms of service come to an end," Mohamed said. "That's something that happens in all our countries. It is something that has never failed us. There is no reason to change that. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

She was speaking at the Assembly of States Parties' annual meeting in The Hague, which was discussing the effect of indicting heads of state. It will not vote on the Kenyan plan to amend the Rome Statute.

Even if Nairobi forces a vote at a future meeting, it is far from certain it will prevail. A two-thirds majority of the 122-nation assembly has to vote in favor, and it would enter into force a year after seven-eighths of the countries have ratified the changes.

Not all Kenyans are keen for their leaders' trials to be put on hold.

"Postponing justice puts witnesses' lives on hold and undermines cases; immunity will mean impunity, undermining peace," said Kenyan human rights activist Njonjo Mue.

Meanwhile, the ongoing Assembly of States Parties meeting in The Hague is considering changing the court's Rules of Procedure and Evidence to allow suspects like Kenyatta and Ruto to stay at home for their trials or participate by video link.

One prominent international lawyer, Cherif Bassiouni, who helped draft the Rome Statute, said he supported the use of video links.

"There is absolutely no reason why any court should insist on the physical presence of a person at court when you have this solution," he said.