JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Almost a week after the African Union called for the International Criminal Court to delay its prosecution of Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, the judicial body responded by excusing Kenyatta from having to be in court for the entire trial.
Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are charged with crimes against humanity related to violence after the disputed 2007 Kenya elections.
The court ruled that Kenyatta need be present only at key moments of the trial.
The AU said last Saturday that if the ICC failed to postpone Kenyatta's trial, he should refuse to attend. It also resolved that sitting leaders should have immunity from prosecution by the court, a vote that has no force but suggests that African leaders may refuse to cooperate with the court in the future.
Kenyatta is due to stand trial next month. Ruto is on trial.
Kenyatta and his supporters argue that with Kenya facing the risk of serious terror attacks because of its military operation in Somalia, Kenyatta cannot afford to be out of the country.
AU pressure for Kenyatta's trial to be postponed is seen as a major setback for the ICC, which has been struggling to overcome perceptions among African leaders that it is biased against Africa. At the AU meeting last weekend, Kenyatta called the court a toy used by declining imperial powers to oust leaders from power.
All eight cases before the court involve Africans. Most, however, were referred to the court either by African governments, or the U.N. Security Council. Five were referred by African governments and two by the Security Council.
ICC President Sang-Hyun Song of Korea said Thursday the court has not targeted Africa and suggestions of anti-Africa bias were regrettable.
"We never chased any African country. We didn't do anything in this respect. They brought their own situation to us," he told AFP. "The ICC should not be blamed for what it did not do."
Song said Kenya failed to set up its own tribunal to investigate the post-election violence, leaving the ICC no option but to intervene.
"The Kenyan parliament voted down twice the idea that was recommended by the international community that they should introduce a special criminal tribunal of their own which will handle these particular tragedies," Song said.
"Since they voted down twice, there was no option but the ICC prosecutor's intervention," Song told AFP, adding that the ICC investigations had the blessing of Kenyan authorities at the time.
At last weekend's AU summit, calls for AU nations to leave the court did not win enough support to prevail. But according to a report by Think Africa Press, many major powers on the continent supported the move for AU countries to abandon the court. These included Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Algeria, which is not a signatory of the Rome Statute which set up the court, also supported the move.
Among those who opposed to such action were Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Mali, Senegal and Botswana.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir has been indicted by the court for crimes against humanity but has refused to appear before it. An arrest warrant has been issued but African nations that he has visited have not acted on the warrant.
Bashir recently canceled plans to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York. At the time of his announcement, the U.S. State Department had made no decision on his visa, but Washington has pressed for Bashir to face trial for genocide.
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