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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.

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