September 6, 2013.
Court says trials of Kenyan president and deputy president for crimes against humanity will go ahead regardless
Uhuru Kenyatta, left, and William Ruto, Kenya's president
and deputy president. (Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA)
Kenyan MPs voted on Thursday to become the first country to pull out of the international criminal court (ICC), sending a defiant message to The Hague just months before their president is due to stand trial.Read the rest here.
Citing the fact that the United States and other major powers were not members, the majority leader of Kenya's parliament proposed a motion for Kenya to "suspend any links, co-operation and assistance" to the court. The measure passed comfortably.
The ICC has charged Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and the deputy president, William Ruto, with crimes against humanity, which both deny.
Ruto's trial is due to start in The Hague next week and the ICC said the cases would continue even if Kenya pulled out of the court which was established in 2002 to deal with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.
A parliamentary bill for Kenya's withdrawal is expected to be introduced in the next 30 days but the final decision will rest with the government, headed by Kenyatta and Ruto.
Opponents warned that withdrawal would isolate Kenya and deal a fresh blow to the already strained credibility of the ICC.
Adan Duale, the majority leader from Kenyatta's Jubilee coalition, told an emergency session of parliament that US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush both argued against becoming a party to the ICC to protect US citizens and soldiers from potential politically-motivated prosecutions.
"I am setting the stage to redeem the image of the republic of Kenya," Duale said. "Let us protect our citizens. Let us defend the sovereignty of the nation of Kenya."
MPs from the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy, led by former prime minister Raila Odinga, walked out of the debate, calling the motion capricious and ill-considered. Minority leader Francis Nyenze said: "We'll be seen as a pariah state; we'll be seen as people who are reactionary and who want to have their way."
Kenyatta and Ruto's charges related to the alleged orchestration of post-election violence in 2007-08 that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 people.
Kenyatta, who was elected president earlier this year, faces trial in November in the biggest test yet for the ICC. Both leaders have said they will co-operate with the court.
The parliamentary decision was criticised as a snub to victims of the violence. Ndungi Githuku, a political activist in the capital, Nairobi, said: "It's a sad day. They are thinking about two individuals and the cases will still go on whether we pull out or not. But it means, in future, people cannot be prosecuted by the ICC.
"The messages it's sending is that impunity is being continued: 'We are ready to do evil and human rights violations and no one is going to keep us in check.' The victims of violence in 2007-08 are the losers."
The ICC has been criticised as anti-African after prosecuting only Africans during its 11 years in existence. But Githuku added: "In parliament, they kept hammering that the ICC is colonialism coming back through the back door. I really don't think so. The ICC is there to keep everyone in check."
*****Comment: I was in Kenya - more specifically Lamu - then the news came that the ICC had decided to charge Kenyatta and Ruto.
The conversation that ensued was mostly that it was a good thing for humanitarian values and a good thing for Kenyan democracy.
Almost immediately there was talk of Kenya withdrawing from the ICC.
Each case must be judged on its own merits but very few folks would argue that the ICC is overly focused on cases that involve African leaders.
Of course, since the US is not a member of the ICC the most important human rights prosecutions of the last five decades is not even in its area of authority. This is an unworkable and undesirable situation - the US is as Dr. Martin Luther King said in the late 60's - "the greatest purveyor" of inhumane violence in the world.
In this context, the moral outrage and indignation being vented against the Kenyans for withdrawing from the ICC is more than just somewhat misplaced.
That said - it does not mean that the ICC's charges and the culprits charged do not deserve to be addressed.
Perhaps the African Union will now have to stand up and evaluate the charges against Kenyatta and Rutto. I am not holding my breath - there simply is no precedent or compelling reason for this to happen.
Justice for the victims of election violence will - sadly - not be forthcoming.