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AU: ICC cannot prosecute sitting head of state

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TOM ODULA | October 12, 2013 12:59 PM EST | AP

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The African Union will not allow a sitting head of state to be prosecuted by an international tribunal, the chairman of the continental body said Saturday, in a clear reference to the trial that is about to begin at the International Criminal Court against Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is accused of crimes against humanity.

The decision was unanimous, said Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the close of a one-day heads of state summit, attended by Kenyatta and Sudan President Omar al-Bashir— who is wanted by The Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

"We have agreed no charge shall be commenced, or continued, before any international court or tribunal against any serving head of state or government or anybody acting or entitled to act in such a capacity ... during his or her term in office," he said.

African countries accuse the ICC of disproportionately targeting African leaders. The international court has indicted only Africans so far though half of the eight cases the court is prosecuting were referred to the court by African governments.

Hailemariam said African leaders decided to set up a contact group of the executive council composed of five members including Kenya to consult with the United Nations Security Council, in particular its five permanent members and raise concerns of the AU in its relationship with the ICC, Hailemariam said.

The contact group will ask for Kenyatta's case to be deferred before his trial begins on November 12, saidTedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chairman of the Executive Council of the African Union and Ethiopia's foreign minister.

A deferral according to laws governing ICC is a one year postponement, he said. The Security Council is the only body which can request the court to defer the case for one year, Tedros said.

If a deferral is not granted then they will ask for a postponement of Kenyatta's trial and if that is not granted then African leaders have decided that Kenyatta should not appear before the court until their request is granted, he said.

Kenyatta faces crimes against humanity charges for Kenya's 2007-08 postelection violence in which more than 1,000 people died.

Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto and broadcaster Joshua Sang also have been charged with crimes against humanity. Their trials, which began last month, continued Friday.

Kenya's parliament last month voted to withdraw from the ICC. Kenya requested the convening of the special African Union summit.

Before the summit political insiders in Kenya's government said that African countries may decide to sever ties with the ICC in solidarity with Kenya.

Kenya Foreign Minister Amina Mohammed denied that Africa is trying cut ties with the ICC but said that the continent, whose countries make a large percentage of members of the ICC, wants its concerns heard.

If Kenyatta decides not to attend his trial, Kenya could become politically isolated and be sanctioned. But in the wake of the Sept. 21 mall attack in Kenya by Somali terrorists in which more than 60 people died in the upscale mall, international repercussions may be lighter because of Kenya's importance to the West as a counterterrorism partner.