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World criminal court not targeting Africa: Annan

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan denied Monday that the International Criminal Court was targeting Africa, despite leaders’ claims that the tribunal is biased against the continent.

“Let me stress that it is the culture of impunity, and individuals, who are on trial at the International Criminal Court, not Africa,” said Annan, delivering the annual Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture on the South African icon’s 82nd birthday.

Amid growing opposition to The Hague-based ICC, the African Union is set to debate the continent’s relationship with the world’s first permanent court to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at a special summit on Friday and Saturday.

The meeting follows the 54-member bloc’s accusations that the court singles out Africans for prosecution, pointing to the high-profile trials of former Liberian president Charles Taylor and top leaders of Kenya.

But Annan said this was “not the case”, adding he had been proud that so many African countries with weak judicial systems had given strong backing to the ICC.

“I am therefore concerned by recent efforts to portray the Court as targeting Africa. I know this is not the case,” said the Ghanaian diplomat.

Four of the cases before the ICC had been referred by African leaders themselves, while the UN Security Council had moved on two others concerning Darfur and Libya, Annan said.

The trial against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto started in September, and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s case will begin in November.

Both are charged with stoking violence after a disputed 2007 presidential election.

The AU has called for the ICC to drop the crimes against humanity trials of leaders in Kenya, where lawmakers have voted to withdraw from the 10-year-old court.

Annan also warned that “serious challenges remain, and new threats are emerging” despite the region’s fast economic growth and social gains in areas like health and education as well as the growth of democracy.

“But real and exciting as progress has been, we cannot afford to become complacent. After all, Africa has endured false dawns in the past.”

“Unfortunately, impressive growth has not eradicated extreme poverty, particularly in rural areas. Neither has it reduced the high levels of inequality which exist across the continent,” he said.

“Despite Africa’s extraordinary wealth of natural resources, poor governance and a lack of transparency have too often led to corruption, exploitation and environmental damage.”

African countries account for 34 of the 122 parties to have ratified the Rome Statute, the court’s founding treaty, which took effect on July 1, 2002.