The African Union has accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) of targeting Africans on the basis of race as it called for an end to prosecution of Kenya's president and his deputy over crimes against humanity.
Hailemariam Desalegn, AU chairman and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, said at the close of a two-day summit of the 54-member bloc on Monday that African leaders had come to a consensus that the ICC process conducted in Africa was flawed.
"The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity... but now the process has degenerated to some kind of race hunting," he said, as the continental bloc ended its summit, held during its golden jubilee year.
A resolution urged the ICC to stop upcoming trials of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto, who have been charged with crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in orchestrating deadly violence after 2007 elections that left more than 1,000 people dead.
Many African leaders, as well as the AU, have said that the ICC unfairly targeted Africans, while ignoring war crimes suspects in other parts of the world.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said that the Hague-based court would not react to the AU resolution.
No legal impact
The ICC said that it was not targeting Africa as a continent and that four out of eight situations under investigation in Africa were referred to the court by the countries themselves.
It said that 34 African nations had ratified the ICC's founding statute.
The resolution passed by the ICC has no legal impact on ICC proceedings but significantly boosts Kenyatta's standing on the continent.
The Kenyan cases moved to the ICC after a failure to make headway in a domestic court, but the AU argued that reforms in Kenya, including a new constitution and revamped judiciary, meant it should now return to a domestic
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, AU Commission chief, called the ICC a court of last resort and said now that Kenya had reformed its court, the trials should be left to that court.
It is the first time the pan-African body has formally moved against the international court, even though Kenyatta is the second African leader to face trial after his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir.
Amnesty International, the UK-based human-rights campaigner, has criticised the move and called it a "worrying attempt by the Kenyan authorities to avoid justice".
Amnesty International called on the 34 AU members who have signed the ICC's founding Rome Statute, including Kenya, to protect the international justice mechanism they had committed to.
Kenyatta and Ruto deny the charges and have agreed to co-operate fully with the ICC.
Kenyatta's trial was due to open on July 9 and a date for Ruto's trial was expected to be set later this month.
Ramtane Lamamra, security commissioner of the AU, said Africa remained committed to justice on the continent.
"Africa is committed to fighting impunity, but fighting impunity is not exclusive through the ICC," he said.