The United Nations Security Council on Friday rejected a request from Kenya to delay the trial of its president at the International Criminal Court (ICC), spurning a growing belief among African states that the Court is targeting them unfairly.
China, acting as the President of the Security Council, gaveled the meeting into session on Friday morning with Burundi, Gabon, Ethiopia and a host of other African countries present to view the vote on the draft resolution. Soon after, by a vote of 7 in favor and none against, with eight abstentions, the vote failed to pass the nine vote threshold needed. The African members of the Council — Rwanda, Morocco, and Togo — both sponsored the resolution and pushed for the vote, despite the fact that the support never appeared to be enough to gain nine votes. Azerbaijan, itself a member of the fifteen-member Council, also sponsored the draft.
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, along with his Vice President William Ruto, have been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity, stemming from their alleged role in post-electoral killings five years ago. The fighting seen then killed 1,200 people before former Secretary-General Kofi Annan was able to mediate a peace deal. Since taking office, Kenyatta and Ruto have cooperated with the ICC, though allegations of witness harassment have been a constant occurrence.
Had today’s draft passed, the Security Council would have used the authority granted to it through Article 16 of the ICC’s founding Rome Statute to delay trials at their discretion. The delay would have taken place for one full year, with a request for Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to report to the Council within two months on the resolution’s implementation. Following the vote, numerous Council members argued that the delay of the trial would have done nothing to improve international peace and security, instead weakening the Court’s ability to act.
The African Union’s 54 members have been wary of the ICC for years now, alleging that the fact that only Africans are currently on trial at the Court show an institutional bias against the continent. The appointment of an ICC Prosecutor from the Gambia was thought to perhaps dampen some of those frayed ties, but so far to no avail. Kenyatta’s indictment has been something of a last straw, with AU officials arguing that the indictments harm Kenya’s ability to participate as an equal state in world politics. The disapproval of the ICC has reached such a pique that the body recently met to discuss an en masse withdrawal from the Rome Statute.
The goal of the resolution may have never been passage, according to analysis from Security Council Report, instead possibly being a way to “put positions expressed in private discussions to the test of a public vote, and demonstrate the unwillingness of some Council members to support their cause.” What’s more, the sponsors of the resolution have “suggested that this resolution is a test of whether countries are either for or against Africa,” according to SCR’s What’s in Blue feature. “This has upset some Council members who believe that this is an issue about two individuals and should not be linked to support for Africa.”