Voice

Kenya encourages African Union to rein in International Criminal Court

Reuters is reporting that the Kenya government has circulated a document to African Union members encouraging them to oppose the International Criminal Court's investigations:

The paper submitted to African foreign ministers at an African Union summit in Ethiopia said the ICC trials risked destabilising Kenya when it was undertaking deep reforms to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence five years ago that killed more than 1,200 people.

Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are accused of masterminding the ethnic bloodshed - charges both deny.

"We request the countries of the African Union and all friendly nations to … urge the ICC to terminate the case or refer it (to Kenya) in view of the changes to Kenya's judiciary and constitutional framework," said the paper seen by Reuters.

One African leader has already signed on the dotted line. During a meeting with Kenyatta, South Sudan's Salva Kiir today lambasted the court:

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir said on Thursday his country would never become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying it appeared to be preoccupied with prosecuting African leaders.

"It seems that this thing has been meant for African leaders, that they have to be humiliated…we never accept it," Kiir told reporters, referring to the Hague-based tribunal.

"We will sit together with our brothers and sisters in Kenya," he said at a news conference in South Sudan's capital Juba held jointly with Kenya's new president Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces charges of crimes against humanity at the tribunal.

In attacking the court at the African Union, Kenya is pushing on a mostly open door. In 2009, the AU ruled that its members had no legal obligation to arrest Sudan's Omar al-Bashir. The AU's then leader, Jean Ping, harshly criticized the court and its prosecutor for showing inadequate respect to African leaders.

The signs of Kenya's new African diplomatic campaign come several weeks after Kenya's U.N. ambassador submitted a letter to the U.N. Security Council urging its members to stop ICC proceedings. Several senior Kenyan officials distanced themselves from that letter, but the ambassador has stood his ground, and the Security Council was slated to discuss the issue informally today.

Africa's trump card is the possibility of a mass withdrawal from the Rome Statute. African states constitute the largest single membership group, and the continent has been the site of every single full ICC investigation. Formally, a mass withdrawal wouldn't have any effect on ongoing investigations and indictments. But the possibility of a large collection of states leaving the court would have a dramatic effect in The Hague -- and in the countries that have championed the institution.

The Multilateralist

The International Monetary Fund's very busy day

It's been a consequential day for the International Monetary Fund.

First, the Fund released the concluding statement from its weeks-long review of the U.K. economy. Because the Fund's chief economist had previously criticized the government's austerity policies, the annual "surveillance" report was highly anticipated. Unsurprisingly, it's a pretty cautious document. The IMF applauds the government for having brought down deficits and for showing "welcome flexibility in its fiscal program." There are implicit criticisms. The report warns that planned further fiscal tightening will be "a drag on growth" and notes that the country is a long way from a sustainable recovery. Overall, however, it's far from a public scolding:

In reality, the report is far less stern on the Chancellor than many had anticipated. Yes, there's plenty of verbiage about the problems facing the economy: about the fact that growth has disappointed, that per capita income is still 6% below the pre-crisis peak, that risks facing the economy remain significant, and that the financial system remains in poor health.

However, the critical parts of the document - those that deal with the Chancellor's fiscal plans - are far more measured, far less critical, than the IMF's previous comments might have indicated.

Still, Labour politicians are seizing on the report's admonitions:

Labour said that the IMF’s advice echoed its own longstanding call for Mr Osborne to ease up on his cuts. “A sensible Chancellor would listen to the IMF’s advice and take action” said the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. “Only a reckless Chancellor would try to plough on regardless.”

Meanwhile, in Paris, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde is facing her own personal form of surveillance: a panel of judges is interviewing the former finance minister as part of their investigation into l'affaire Tapie. Via Reuters:

Lagarde risks being placed under formal investigation at the hearing for her 2007 decision as Sarkozy's finance minister to use arbitration to settle a long-running court battle between the state and high-profile businessman Bernard Tapie.

Under French law, that step would mean there exists "serious or consistent evidence" pointing to probable implication of a suspect in a crime. It is one step closer to trial but a number of such investigations have been dropped without any trial.

For the moment, key IMF members are steadfast in their support for Lagarde. If the judicial process takes a more serious turn, however, fissures may emerge. The selection process that produced Lagarde was contested, and some emerging powers still resent that the Fund's top post remains in European hands.