ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - The African Union will not allow a sitting head of state to be prosecuted by an international tribunal, the body's chairman said Saturday, in a clear warning it hopes to halt the crimes against humanity trial about to begin in The Hague against Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta.
African countries accuse the International Criminal Court of disproportionately targeting African leaders. The court in the Netherlands has indicted only Africans so far, though half of the eight cases it is prosecuting were referred by African governments.
The AU's move was immediately criticized by rights groups, both in Kenya and abroad.
The AU doesn't have the power to prevent a head of state being tried in The Hague, including Kenyatta, who is accused of complicity in ethnic unrest following Kenya's disputed 2007 election, in which more than 1,000 people were killed.
But the group plans to contact the U.N. Security Council to ask for Kenyatta's case to be deferred before his trial begins on Nov. 12, said Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chairman of the AU executive council.
The Security Council has the power to order a one-year deferral, but whether it would is another question. It has never before deferred a case. Ghebreyesus said if it is not granted, the group will ask for a postponement of Kenyatta's trial, and if that is not granted then African leaders have decided Kenyatta should not appear before the court, he said.
The decision at the close of a one-day heads of state summit was unanimous, said Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Both Kenyatta and Sudan President Omar al-Bashir- also wanted by the war crimes tribunal - were in attendance.