African Leaders Want Prosecution Immunity for Heads of State

African leaders want sitting heads of state to be immune from prosecution at international courts, said Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopian prime minister and the current chairman of the African Union.

“We have agreed that no charges shall be commenced or continued before any international court or tribunal against any serving heads of state or government or anybody acting or entitled to enact in such capacity during his or her term of office,” he said in a speech after leaders met in Addis Ababa today.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta won’t appear at the International Criminal Court until the United Nations Security Council responds to requests to delay his trial by a year, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom told reporters. All of the active cases before the ICC are against Africans, including Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, prompting complaints from the continent’s leaders that the tribunal is unfairly targeting the continent.

Ruto is on trial on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with ethnic violence following a disputed 2007 election. Kenyatta’s trial on similar charges will begin next month. More than 1,100 people died in the clashes. Both men deny the accusations.

If the security council doesn’t defer Kenyatta’s case, the AU will request a postponement of the trials, Tedros said, without giving further details. The AU will discuss the issue at a summit next month if the response is negative, Tedros said.

Security Council

“We don’t want to pre-empt it without seeing what the progress will be,” Tedros said about the possible decisions at the summit.

Fadi El Abdallah, a spokesman for the ICC, didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message left outside normal office hours today.

African foreign ministers created a five-member committee to discuss with the security council deferring the Kenyan trials and the case of Sudanese leader Umar al-Bashir for a year, which the New York-based body has the authority to do, said Hailemariam.

Kenyatta, 51, is the second sitting president to be indicted by the ICC after Bashir, who is wanted for suspected war crimes and genocide in Sudan’s western Darfur region. He says he is innocent of the charges.

Rome Statute

“African sovereignty means nothing to the ICC and its patrons,” Kenyatta told leaders today, according to an e-mailed copy of his speech.

Thirty-four of the 122 state parties to the Rome Statute that created the ICC are African, according to the court. The African members have been asked to raise the “issue of indictment” of sitting leaders at a meeting of other signatories to the court, Hailemariam said.

In May, the African Union called for the ICC cases against Kenyatta and Ruto to be referred back to domestic courts after Kenya enacted a new constitution in 2010 aimed at strengthening the accountability of the country’s judiciary. While lawmakers in Nairobi last month passed a motion to withdraw from the Rome Statue, the state isn’t bound by the decision.

South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu has criticized Kenya and Sudan for urging African nations to shun the ICC, saying such a move would make the “world a more dangerous place.” He spearheaded an online petition to gather at least 1 million signatures in support of the court before today’s summit.

Kenyan Foreign Secretary Amina Mohamed said on Oct. 9 that the East African country hasn’t lobbied other African nations to withdraw from the ICC and reiterated that Kenyatta and Ruto are fully cooperating with the tribunal.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at