War tribunal not a 'witch hunt' on Africa

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu on Friday said there was no "witch hunt" targeting Africa at the International Criminal Court in a plea to leaders to support the tribunal.

Tutu urged heads of states at the African Union (AU) to stand up against their "least democratic" counterparts on the ICC which he said Africa had helped found, initiated cases at, and staffed.

"So while the rhetoric of leaders at the AU may play both the race and colonial cards, the facts are clear," the 82-year-old wrote in an opinion piece in local media.

"Far from being a so-called 'white man's witch hunt', the ICC could not be more African if it tried."

Tutu's call came as the 54-member African Union opened a two-day special summit to debate relations with The Hague-based tribunal, which has been widely accused of singling out the continent.

"Today's meeting is a contest between justice and brutal violence. Far from a fight between Africa and the West, this is a fight within Africa, for the soul of the continent," Tutu said.

"May righteous Africans raise their voices and affirm the ICC and the rule of law."

Tutu accused leaders who back a withdrawal from the ICC of "effectively seeking a licence to kill, maim and oppress their people without consequences".

The argument that the ICC was racist was used to mask the desire to act with impunity and outside legal system, he said.

"Africa has suffered the consequences of unaccountable leaders for too long to allow itself to be hoodwinked in this manner," wrote Tutu in the piece published in the Cape Times.

Tutu has called for signatures to an online petition by activist group Avaaz.

"Without this court, there would be no brake on the worst excesses of world leaders. And these violent leaders continue to plague Africa: the Great Lakes, Mali, northern Nigeria and Egypt all give reason for concern," he said.

"Perpetrators of violence must not be allowed to wriggle free."

Several nations in the AU have accused the ICC of targeting Africans and have specifically demanded that the court drop or delay proceedings against Kenya's leadership linked to post-election violence.

Heads of state are due to join the debate at the AU's Addis Ababa headquarters on Saturday.