Kenya Vice President William Ruto alongside co-accused journalist Joshua Sang were in The Hague to attend their cases. They are accused by the International Criminal Court of murder, forcible population transfer and persecution during post-election violence in 2007/2008 that claimed more than 1000 people. More than 300,000 were left homeless, thousands more injured and around 42,000 houses and many businesses were looted and destroyed according to a March 2009 report on post-election violence in Kenya by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
African leaders have negatively voiced their views against the ICC accusing it of racism. Recall that all the eight cases the court is investigating are from Africa. The ICC is accused of hunting Africans because of their race and is viewed as an instrument of the west to interfere in African affairs. This time The Hague-based court is reviewing cases of high ranking officials in Kenya and the whole continent is focusing its attention on these cases. For many who have followed the 2007-2008 post-election violence in the East-Africa biggest economy, it is evident that violence really happened and consequently there are victims that are awaiting justice. Notwithstanding, there are concerns in Africa over the ICC as it looks like it focuses on crimes against humanity that are only committed on the continent.
In the spirit of solidarity, five East African countries have written to the International Criminal Court (ICC)to plead that Deputy President William Ruto’s case be dropped. ICC spokesperson, Fadi El Abdallah confirmed that the court has received the letter written by Burundi, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. They are requesting the court to exempt the Kenya’s VP from attending all hearings, a move that is against article 63 of The Rome Statute, which disposes that “the accused shall be present during the trial”. Nevertheless the five East African countries want the court to allow Mr. Ruto room to exercise his constitutional duties as the Deputy Vice President of the Republic of Kenya.
However, the ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said that for the time being Mr Ruto is requested to be present at all hearings in his trial before Trial Chamber V (a), pending a final determination of the Appeals chamber on the appeal against the excusable decision. The court has been accused by African states of lengthy investigations processes and unacceptably long delays. This is yet another opportunity to test the ICC flexibility to charge those who occupy high office. The court should avoid being seen as an arrogant foreign force that doesn’t care about the grieves of signatory parties to the Rome statutes. I guess in any contract two parties are involved and both of them are required to respect each other.
The court should listen to the grievances of African states signatory to the Rome statutes if it want to save its face on the continent. Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania have requested the ICC to strike a balance between its jurisdictions and the responsibilities of those who occupy high office according to The Daily Nation. Rwanda’s Attorney General and Justice Minister Johnson Busingye was quoted as saying that granting Mr. Ruto his request would bolster the effectiveness of the court. In addition to him, Tanzania’ s Attorney General Fredrick Mwita said that exempting the Deputy President from some of the hearings would enhance cooperation between the court and states parties.
Already before the beginning of the trial, Kenya parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC. Aden Duale, the majority leader from Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition was quoted by Aljazeera as saying that he is setting the stage to redeem the image of the republic of Kenya. In addition to this the African Union has called a special summit on October 13th to discuss a mass withdrawal from the ICC in protest of the trial. An AU official told the Reuters that Kenyans officials have been criss-crossing Africa in search for support for their cause even before their Parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC. Rwanda is one of the country that is behind this move to push for a rethink of the relationship between ICC and Africa according to the BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza in Addis Ababa. Rwanda’s AU ambassador Joseph Nsengimana told the BBC that these cases don’t only concern Kenya. He said that African countries have come to the conclusion that international justice is becoming more and more a political matter.
These cases represent a golden opportunity for the ICC to accommodate the concerns of signatories to the Rome statutes. The Hague-based court should be flexible in these hearings of high rankings officials if it want to improve its relationships with the continent. For African countries such as Rwanda that haven’t yet ratified the statutes, these cases on table will clarify how people who hold high office will be treated while facing trial. And the way the court will handle these two cases will have an influence on whether more countries will ratify the statutes or withdraw from it. Whatever the case, Africans should not forget that there are thousands of victims in Kenya who are awaiting the justice to be done. Whether the ICC will be flexible throughout these cases remain to be seen. As we are awaiting the issue of the Deputy Vice president and his co-accused radio presenter, the trial of the President Kenyatta’s case is expected to start on November 13.