Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1216, (2 - 8 October 2014)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1216, (2 - 8 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Kenyatta’s ICC trial

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has been doing his best to avoid an ICC trial, writes Haytham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is demanding that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appear before it in person to answer questions about his role in the 2007 ethnic massacres in his country. But it is still unclear if the Kenyan president will be willing to go to The Hague for a status conference, a preliminary hearing in the trial.

If he agrees to appear in court, Kenyatta will be the first incumbent head of state to consent to a summons by the ICC, which since its creation in 2002 has failed to prosecute many powerful officials, including Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.

In Kenya, the government this week commemorated the first anniversary of the terrorist attack by the Shabab Movement against the Westgate Shopping Mall, which claimed 67 lives.

The government said that Kenyatta was too busy to appear for his status conference, scheduled for 8 October, but was open to attending it at a later date, which it didn’t specify.

ICC prosecutors said they were open to rescheduling the status conference if Kenyatta was willing to appear in person, but only if the rescheduled hearing took place “in the near future,” according to a statement by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

Over the past few weeks, ICC prosecutors have admitted that they may have to drop the case because of insufficient evidence. To be able to bring Kenyatta to trial, they would need telephone and banking records which the Kenyan government has failed to provide so far, the prosecutors said.

For its part, the Kenyan government claims that the trial is politically motivated. So far, most of the crimes against humanity investigated by the ICC have been in Africa, although there are currently several investigations taking place in Asia, the former Soviet Republics, and Latin America.

Meanwhile, the families of the victims of the tribal and ethnic violence that followed the presidential elections in 2007 in Kenya are still demanding justice.

The Kenyan government intends to join the international coalition declared by US President Barack Obama to fight terrorism. The move, analysts say, may be designed to alleviate international pressure for the trial of Kenyan suspects.

Kenya is one of the largest countries in East Africa and is a staunch ally of the US. Despite recurring ethnic violence, it has not experienced military coups or civil wars, which makes it more internationally reputable than many of its neighbours.

Some African leaders have tried to stop the ICC from issuing summons for the Kenyan president, claiming that such a move could destabilise the country.

Most of the cases the ICC is currently investigating are located in Africa, including the Darfur region of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Libya, the Central African Republic, Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya.

But several other nations have also come under investigation, including Colombia, Honduras, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine and Georgia.

Ali Hussein, a law professor at Khartoum University, said that African cases tended to surface more frequently than others because they fitted the terms of the Rome Statute that set up the ICC.

“The ICC acts in two cases: one is if a country’s judiciary shows no desire to try the defendants, and the other is if the judiciary in question lacks the means to do so. Most of the African cases meet these two conditions,” he said.

South Sudanese rights activist Edmund Yakini deplores the lack of a rigorous legal tradition in the continent.

“Most African citizens don’t expect to see major politicians on trial, regardless of the charges against them. The judiciary is often too politicised,” he commented.

Kenyatta is the second incumbent president to be summoned by the Court. Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, charged with “masterminding” war crimes in Darfur, has refused to appear.

As the uproar over his international trial continued, Kenyatta visited refugee camps in the Rift Valley that had been badly hit by the violence. He gave each of the victims’ families US$4,500, according to the local media.

The Kenyan government has also declared a plan to close down all the refugee camps and send the refugees back to their towns and villages.

Ethnic clashes broke out in Kenya following accusations of fraud during the 2007 presidential race in which Mwai Kibaki, an ally of Kenyatta, defeated Raila Odinga.

The violence was mainly directed against the Kikuyus, the largest ethnic group in the country and the one to which Kibaki belongs. The worst acts of violence were reported in the Nairobi slums, the Nyanza province, the Rift Valley, and the coast.

In the Nairobi slums, the Kikuyus are said to have committed massacres against members of other communities.

Weeks after the elections, the then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan managed to strike a power-sharing deal that ended the violence. The National Accord and Reconciliation Act, signed on 28 February 2008, created the post of prime minister and gave it to the loser in the presidential elections, Raila Odinga.

Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was elected president in 2012 and has since engaged in diplomatic efforts to have the charges against him and his deputy, William Ruto, dropped.

The ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said that the Kenyatta government had failed to fulfil its obligations to the Court by refusing to provide factual information about the case, such as bank statements and telephone records.

Kenyatta is accused of organising a particularly infamous Kikuyu gang, known as the Mungiki sect, to attack rival groups. He has denied the charges.

Vice-president William Rutu also faces similar charges, although he was in Odinga’s camp during the 2007 crisis that left 1,200 dead and drove 600,000 people from their homes.

Kenyatta, 51, became involved in politics in the 1990s as a protégé of former president Daniel Arap Moi who ruled the country between 1978 and 2002.

He also inherited more than political prestige from his father. Observers estimate his personal assets at some US$500 million, making him the 26th richest man in Africa.

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