Monday, January 24, 2022

Khama on the spot as AU meets to discuss relationship with ICC

President Lt Gen Ian Khama faces an uncomfortable session at a special African Union summit next week where he likely to find himself at odds with the continental body’s popular anti International Criminal Court agenda.

South African President, Jacob Zuma who has joined the bash-the-ICC bandwagon says
It is the impression that the ICC is being “unreasonable” ÔÇô that led directly to the Addis Ababa summit on October 13th. There is just one item on the summit agenda: “Africa’s relationship with the ICC”.

There is speculation that the special African Union summit could lead to a breakdown in relations with the International Criminal Court, amid claims that the trials of the Kenyan president and his deputy in The Hague are fresh proof that the court is “hunting” African leaders.

Botswana has however broken ranks with the popular AU sentiments on Kenya. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Phandu Skelemani recently told the media that Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta who is facing crimes against humanity charges at The Hague should not set foot in Botswana if he refuses to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) as some suspect. “If he refuses to go (to The Hague), then we have a problem. That means that they do not know the rule of law. You can’t establish a court and refuse to go when it calls you. If he refuses, he won’t set foot here,” Skelemani said. The minister later “clarified” his statement after being put on the spot by an opposition member of parliament. Responding to a question in Parliament from Kanye North MP, Kentse Rammidi, Skelemani said Botswana and Kenya were State Parties to the ICC and such membership presented obligations, opportunities and consequences. “As can and should be expected, any State Party to the Court is bound by its rules and regulations and we would be obliged to arrest any person against whom the Court would have issued an arrest warrant.” Skelemani said he was “merely explaining the rules of the Rome Statute of the ICC and obligations of State Parties to the Court.”

“Botswana as a member of the ICC, will only act in accordance with decisions of the Court. At the moment, no decision has been made regarding the Kenyan Parties that would require Botswana to do anything. I never made the alleged statement,”

Relations between the African Union (AU) and the court (ICC) have been strained for some time, and the meeting in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, is expected to escalate the tension.

Kenya’s parliament voted on September 5th to leave the ICC, and it will be lobbying at the 54-country summit for a mass withdrawal by the 34 remaining AU members, or alternatively for a two-thirds majority instructing those countries to end their co-operation with the court.

“The Kenyans were criss-crossing Africa in search of support for their cause even before their parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC,” one AU diplomat was quoted saying. “A complete walkout by signatories is certainly a possibility ÔÇô but other requests are also possible.”

Among those other possibilities is a repeat of the AU request to have the trials of Kenyan deputy president William Ruto and of President Uhuru Kenyatta if not stopped then at least moved to Nairobi.

Despite denials by the ICC that it disproportionately targets African leaders for prosecution, it is not just Kenya that is promoting the anti-ICC agenda and pointing out that all eight cases it is investigating are in Africa.

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, visited Kenya last month but was not arrested, despite an ICC request. He says the charges are “exaggerated” and describes the ICC as part of a “western plot” against him.

Botswana’s former Vice President Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe has in the past maintained that Botswana backed the decision by the ICC to prosecute Al Bashir. Merafhe was reiterating an earlier statement by President Lt Gen Ian Khama.

The numbers at the AU are however stacked against Botswana. Last week, Ivory Coast’s government decided not to transfer former first lady Simone Gbagbo to join her husband in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with the 2010 presidential election, and said it would try her at home.

Rwanda’s ambassador to the African Union, Joseph Nsengimana, observed: “It is not only the case of Kenya. We have seen international justice become more and more a political matter.” Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni on the other hand has accused the ICC of continually “mishandling complex African issues”.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the AU chairman, told the UN General Assembly last week: “The manner in which the ICC has been operating has left a very bad impression in Africa. It is totally unacceptable.”

Botswana which has consistently supported the court may find itself on the spot against the overwhelming anti ICC agenda among African leaders. A change of heart by President Khama, only a few weeks after climbing down on his position against the Zimbabwean government is unlikely as it would raise questions about how well thought out Botswana’s foreign policy is.


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