The body representing African nations has called on its members to disregard the arrest warrant issued for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in a move that will seriously weaken the International Criminal Court's ability to bring him to justice.
The decision passed by the 53-member African Union late on Friday states that the warrant against Gaddafi "seriously complicates" efforts by the organisation to find a solution to the Libyan crisis.
AU executive Jean Ping also told reporters the ICC is "discriminatory" and only goes after crimes committed in Africa, while ignoring those he says were committed by Western powers in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"With this in mind, we recommend that the member states do not cooperate with the execution of this arrest warrant," said the motion, which was shown to The Associated Press and whose passage was confirmed on yesterday by Daniel Adugna, a spokesman in the AU commissioner's office.
If countries in Africa abide by the recommendation, it opens the possibility that Gaddafi could avoid prosecution by seeking refuge on the soil of his neighbours.
A total of 31 states in Africa are signatories to the International Criminal Court, representing nearly a third of the nations where the mandate applies. However, there has been increasing malaise in Africa over the ICC, which has been denounced by the continent's entrenched rulers as an instrument of neocolonialism.
Diplomats present during this week's AU summit in Malabo said that although they support the court, they agree with the AU's claim that the warrant complicates effort to end the crisis in Libya.
"If he knows he has nowhere to go, he will fight till the end. He would rather die than be tried," according to a Western diplomat who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Gaddafi's chief of staff applauded the AU's decision, holding a copy of it in his hand on Friday evening as the heads of state emerged for their declaration to the assembly following a day of closed-door deliberations on Libya.
They announced they were inviting the warring sides to talks which will begin soon in Addis Ababa and which aim to put in place a transitional government that will govern the country until new elections can be held.