JOHANNESBURG -- A chorus of prominent voices, led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, urged African leaders to abandon the idea of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, which is in the midst of trying Kenya's vice president.
African Union leaders are holding an extraordinary summit Friday to discuss the continent's relationship with the court, with some leaders and diplomats pressing them to sever their ties.
Mr. Annan, who is from Ghana, spoke out Monday night as he delivered the annual Desmond Tutu peace lecture in Cape Town, South Africa. "If they fight the ICC, vote against the ICC, withdraw their cases, it will be a badge of shame for each and every one of them and for their countries," the former United Nations secretary said.
His speech came as 142 African human rights and activist groups also called upon the leaders to support the Hague-based court. "We believe any withdrawal from the ICC would send the wrong signal about Africa's commitment to protect and promote human rights and reject impunity," the organizations said in a letter to African Union foreign ministers Monday.
The ICC is facing its toughest test with the trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto for crimes against humanity in the ethnic violence that followed a disputed 2007 election. Mr. Ruto is on trial now, and Mr. Kenyatta's trial is scheduled to begin next month.
Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto, elected in March despite the ICC indictments, have promised to cooperate with the court. But Kenya's Parliament has voted to withdraw from the court, and Kenyan politicians have pushed for other African nations to withdraw from it en masse, a move that could shred the ICC's credibility.
Mr. Annan said the court was a last resort after African governments failed to deliver justice for heinous crimes against humanity. And he rejected criticisms some have levied, notably in Kenya, that ICC trials could undermine peace and stability.
"On a continent that has experienced deadly conflict, gross violations of human rights, even genocide, I am surprised to hear critics ask whether the pursuit of justice might obstruct the search for peace," Mr. Annan said.
The ICC also has been accused of anti-African bias, with all its cases so far mounted against Africans. Prominent critics include Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Ethiopian Foreign Affairs spokesman Dina Mufti last week said the ICC cases against African leaders were politically motivated, and that an international court conflicts with the African Union principle of African solutions for African problems.
First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM