Saturday, November 30, 2013

ICC Agrees to Changes in African Prosecutions

Africa / African News

ICC agrees to changes to ease tension with Africa


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AMSTERDAM — The International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) member states on Wednesday agreed to changes to the court’s trial procedures that could help defuse the tension between the court and the African continent over the approaching trial of Kenya’s president.

The changes approved by the court’s 122 members will make it easier for suspects to participate in trial proceedings via video link and create a special exemption for top government officials, western diplomats said.

Kenya and its African Union (AU) allies have been lobbying hard for the trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to be halted or postponed, saying the case threatens to destabilise the East African region.

Mr Kenyatta and his deputy, former political rival William Ruto, face charges of crimes against humanity over ethnic clashes after Kenya’s 2007 elections, when 1,200 people died.

The new rules allow judges to grant an exemption to a suspect who is "mandated to fulfil extraordinary public duties at the highest national level", according to the text seen by Reuters.

Earlier this month, Kenya and the AU failed in their bid to have the trials of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto deferred by the United Nations (UN) Security Council for one year, leading some African leaders to urge Mr Kenyatta to boycott his trial, which is due to start on February 5.

A boycott would pose a dilemma to the 10-year-old ICC’s strongest supporters in Europe and North America, which see Kenya as an important ally in the fight against Islamist militancy in neighbouring Somalia.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, welcomed the vote, which she said would make it easier for Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto to "mount a vigorous legal defence", while doing their jobs as Kenya’s top elected officials. In a statement, she praised the court’s Assembly of States Parties for amending the court’s procedures "in a manner that appropriately protects the rights and interests of both victims and defendants, while allowing the judicial process to proceed without delay".

The US is not a member of the court, but it has tacitly supported it since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, and has urged Kenya’s leaders to co-operate in their trials.

But Human Rights Watch cautioned the amendment would have little practical effect, while risking creation of "two-tiered justice" with exceptions for the powerful. "This amendment keeps the decision on attending trial in the hands of the ICC’s judges, so it remains to be seen whether the change will make any practical difference whatsoever," said Liz Evenson, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch.

Judges have been lenient in granting requests by Mr Ruto to be excused from his trial, which began in September. They immediately allowed him to return home to deal with the attack by Somali militants on a shopping mall in Nairobi in September, in which at least 67 were killed.

The court, which has so far prosecuted only Africans, has long been under fire on the continent, where it is seen as an instrument of neocolonial interference.

Meanwhile, Kenya on Thursday launched the construction of a Chinese-funded $13.8bn flagship railway project, hoping to increase trade and boost Kenya’s position as a regional economic power.

The key transport link, to run from the busy port city of Mombasa inland to the highland capital Nairobi, is eventually hoped to extend onwards to Uganda, and then connect with proposed lines to Rwanda and South Sudan.

"What we are doing here today will most definitely transform … not only Kenya but the whole eastern African region," Mr Kenyatta told crowds at the ground-breaking ceremony he called a "historic milestone". "As a result, East Africa will become a competitive investment destination … a busy growing East Africa is good for us as a country."

Kenyan media have hailed it enthusiastically as the region’s largest infrastructure project for a century.

" It will be a landmark project both for Kenya and East Africa," China’s ambassador to Kenya, Liu Guangyuan, said at the ceremony. Financing — currently only from China — has so far been made for only the first 450km section from Mombasa to Nairobi, replacing the current single train line with a high-speed standard gauge track, and an additional line alongside.

Work on that section, by the state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation, should be completed by 2017.

Freight trains are planned to be able to cut the 36-hour trip by rail to just eight hours, with planners claiming it will slash cargo transport costs by 60%.

Sapa-AFP, Reuters

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