African leaders have begun a two-day meeting to discuss the continent’s relationship with the International Criminal Court among other issues.
The first meeting on Friday, dubbed the extraordinary session of the executive council of the African Union, is to be followed by the session of the assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital and headquarters of the continental bloc.
The two-day summit is expected to be attended by Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, who has been indicted by the ICC on war crimes charges and genocide in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur.
The AU has demanded that proceedings against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta linked to the 2007-2008 post-election violence be dropped.
Kenyatta faces crimes against humanity along with his Vice President William Ruto, who is already on trial at the Hague, Netherlands.
The meeting is also expected to discuss a possible mass withdrawal from the ICC, although leading African figures, including Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have urged African leaders not to withdraw support.
In his opening speech at the summit, Ethiopia’s foreign minister slammed the ICC for its “unfair” and “totally unacceptable” treatment of Africa.
“The manner in which the Court has been operating, particularly its unfair treatment of Africa and Africans, leaves much to be desired,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told ministers and delegates at the opening of the meeting.
Many African countries, whose leaders have complained that the ICC only targets Africans, are signatories to the Rome Statute which set the stage for the formation of the court.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Addis Ababa, said only a handful of countries were advocating a withdrawal from the court.
He said countries like Nigeria did not have a problem with the court while South Africa had not decided on pulling out.
Thirty-four African states are signatories to the Rome Statute.
The summit comes as Kenyatta launches a fresh bid to have the ICC case against him stopped.
He cited “serious, sustained and wide-ranging abuse on the process of the court carried out by” three witnesses against him in collaboration with the court’s investigators, according to Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.
Kenyatta alleges his witnesses have been intimidated or interfered with to change their testimony “for reward”, the newspaper said.
In an application made late on Thursday, the daily said, his defence team wants the judges to either stop the case permanently or hold a hearing where the issue will be resolved conclusively before his trial begins on November 12.
Kenyatta’s lawyers have said that if it is found that those involved abused the court process, “it would necessitate a permanent stay of the proceedings”.
In July two witnesses who were due to testify in Kenyatta’s trial withdrew over security concerns, the ICC said.
The court also dropped a third witness’s evidence, saying it it did not consider it necessary.
Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, has previously accused Kenya’s government of not protecting witnesses.