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African Union runs critical eye over ICC

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) speaks to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (not pictured) during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) speaks to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (not pictured) during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People

By Aaron Maasho and Edmund Blair

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) has become a "political instrument", Ethiopia's foreign minister said on Friday, at a meeting in which Africa will review its ties with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

Friday's ministerial meeting of the African Union (AU) and a summit on Saturday have been called to cast a critical eye over the relationship, as ICC prosecutions are under way against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.

Both deny charges that they organized mass violence after Kenya's disputed 2007 election.

Last month, an AU official said the organization would consider the withdrawal of Africa's 34 signatories of the court's Rome Statute, but ministers and others have played down talk of such action. Kenya says it has not sought such a move.

Frustration with the ICC has been growing in Africa because the court has only ever convicted one man, an African warlord, and all others it has charged are also Africans.

Rights groups have urged the continent not to quit, saying such a move would reverse efforts to end a culture of impunity they say has prevailed in African politics.

The 54-member AU, headquartered in Addis Ababa, has backed a Kenyan call for the Kenyan trials to be moved closer to home and appealed to the U.N. Security Council to defer the two cases. Both requests have until now been without success.

"We should not allow the ICC to continue to treat Africa and Africans in a condescending manner," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom told the opening meeting of foreign ministers, adding he expected the AU to come up with recommendations.

"Far from promoting justice and reconciliation, and contributing to the advancement of peace and stability in our continent, the court has transformed itself into a political instrument targeting Africa and Africans."

"DOUBLE STANDARDS"

"The general feeling is that the African members states ... would rather prefer an ICC that would be responsive to our requests," Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said after the first session of ministerial talks.

Asked if that meant renewing a call to allow Kenyatta to attend the trial by video link, he said: "There is no reason why a head of state should not be interviewed in his offices."

The court has yet to rule on whether Kenyatta and Ruto can be excused from large parts of their trials or participate by video link.

Lamamra said that if the ICC did not "do a number of things it would become extremely difficult to continue cooperation".

Three diplomatic delegates said there had been no talk of a mass walkout in initial talks but discussions were continuing.

London-based rights group Amnesty International urged African nations not to withdraw cooperation with the court.

"Such a resolution would serve no purpose except to shield from justice, and to give succor to, people suspected of committing some of the worst crimes known to humanity," Amnesty's deputy director of law and policy, Tawanda Hondora, said in a statement on Thursday.

Lawyers for Kenyatta asked on Thursday for his trial on charges of crimes against humanity to be abandoned, saying defense witnesses had been intimidated.

Ruto went on trial in The Hague last month and Kenyatta's trial is due to start on November 12.

Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia's prime minister, whose country is not a court signatory, told Reuters this week the ICC was showing "double standards".

Asked if the AU meeting would call for a mass walkout, he said: "That is up to those members of the ICC who have signed the Rome Statute."

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Roche)

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