World court excuses Kenya president, as ex-ICC prosecutor slams colleagues

Uhuru Kenyatta, president of Kenya

A former prosecutor for the court said his colleagues ignored political realities in the case against President Kenyatta

The International Criminal Court said Friday it will excuse President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya from attending all his impending trial for crimes against humanity, as the world court faces increasing pressure over the trial.

Judges at the court excused Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta from “continuous presence” at the trial, after a majority vote, with presiding Judge Kuniko Ozaki dissenting, the ICC said in a statement.

Mr. Kenyatta’s trial is due to start on November 12. He is facing the charges alongside his vice, William Ruto.

They are accused of instigating a wave of violence in which at least 1,200 people died after the country’s disputed election in 2007. They have denied the charges and have asked that the trial be rescheduled.

African leaders have accused the ICC of bias against them, saying the court has dedicated much of its time prosecuting alleged offenders from the continent while ignoring similar violators elsewhere.

Last week, the African Union passed a resolution calling for immunity for its serving leaders, and urging its members, including Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto, not to appear before the ICC until the United Nations Security Council responds to its demands.

In a twist that upped the pressure even more on the ICC, a former chief prosecutor of the court on Thursday condemned his former colleagues over the Kenya case, warning that the indictments could damage the international justice system.

David Crane, the U.S. lawyer who built the case against Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, said prosecutors at The Hague had ignored political realities in pursuing the Kenyan prosecution. He said that “could be the beginning of a long slide into irrelevance for international law”.

“I would never have indicted or gotten involved in justice for the Kenyan tragedy,” Mr. Crane said. “It’s placed them in a situation where they are damned if they do or damned if they don’t.”

There are reports that France is working on a UN resolution that would defer the Kenyan cases for 12 months.

Mr. Crane said the cases he built during three years of investigations in West Africa from 2002-05 took into account local politics as well as the law.

He branded former prosecutor, and Argentinian lawyer, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who indicted the Kenyan leaders of being “over-ambitious” and having “political tin ear”.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo was a celebrity in Kenya when the country came close to a civil war and as many as 400,000 people lost their homes after the election in 2007.

With many seeking justice, he led the ICC to step in after the country’s National Assembly could not agree on an alternative to a deal under which a national tribunal was meant to be set up to try the guilty.

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He lost the popularity after he included Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto-then candidates for the country’s 2011 presidential elections- among those indicted.

Friday’s ruling states that the Kenyan president must be physically present during the opening and closing statements, hearings where victims “present their views and concerns in person,” the verdict, and any other sessions determined by the court.

The judges said that the exemption was granted “to accommodate the demanding functions of [Mr. Kenyatta’s] office as President of Kenya”.


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