Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto has pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against huminity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague.
Ruto, 46, appeared before the court on Tuesday to face charges related to the deadly post-election violence in the east African nation five years ago.
“How was it that somebody innocent, I am not saying not guilty, somebody innocent, has come before this court to answer charges that will be shown to be patently false,” Ruto’s lawyer Karim Khan said.
Al Jazeera’s Tim Friend, reporting from the Hague, said that according to prosecution the two defendants exploided “historical ethnic tensions” in Kenya for their own political advantage.
“Meanwhile the defence says the prosecution is taking the wrong people and it is relying on unreliable witnesses who may have their own motives to pin the blame” our correspondent said.
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Eldoret in western Kenya, said that the people in Kenya who were displaced during the incidents in 2008, want to have answers and to know who were responsible for the violence.
The start of his trial on Tuesday comes just days after lawmakers in Kenya became the first in the world to approve moves to withdraw recognition of the court’s jurisdiction.
Any move by Kenya to leave the ICC’s Rome Statute will have no effect on the current trials, but observers fear it may spark an exodus of court member states in Africa, where all the ICC’s current cases are based.
Ruto and his co-accused, radio boss Joshua arap Sang, 38, each face three counts of murder, deportation and persecution after a wave of violence swept Kenya in 2007-08, leaving at least 1,100 dead and more than 600,000 homeless.
Both will plead not guilty.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, a one-time political foe of Ruto’s turned ally, goes on trial at the ICC on November 12. He also says he is innocent.
Violence in 2007-2008 laid bare simmering ethnic tensions. The violence was mainly directed at members of Kenya’s largest Kikuyu tribe, who were perceived as supporters of then president Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU).
Pre-trial judges said evidence suggested that Ruto held a number of meetings to plan the ethnic killings as far back as December 2006.
Initial attacks quickly led to reprisals, with homes torched and more people hacked to death, bringing some parts of the country to the brink of civil war.
The ICC, the world’s only independent, permanent tribunal for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, took charge of the cases after Nairobi failed to set up a tribunal of its own in line with agreements brokered by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.