The UN Security Council has rejected an African demand to suspend the International Criminal Court trial of Kenya’s president and his deputy for one year.
Eight council nations, all ICC members or supporters, including Britain, France and the United States, abstained to ensure the failure of the resolution on Friday.
The resolution got only seven votes, two below the number needed to pass in the 15-member body.
It was the first time in decades that a Security Council resolution has failed in such a way without a veto by one of the permanent members.
A resolution proposed by African states calling for the deferral was the biggest challenge yet to the trials of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto who are accused of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in post-election violence in 2007-8, which left at least 1,100 people dead.
Kenyatta and Ruto took office after an election in March.
The African nations, led by Rwanda, who proposed the resolution faced strong criticism for the challenge and the way it was forced upon the council.
Guatemala’s UN ambassador Gert Rosenthal said the attempt to suspend the trial was an act of “contempt” against countries that had sought to help Africa with peacekeeping troops and efforts to boost justice in the continent.
The rejection of the resolution comes a day after a new poll found that a majority of Kenyans want the ICC to try their president for alleged crimes against humanity.
The poll, released on Thursday, found that 67 percent of 2,060 Kenyans surveyed think Kenyatta should attend his trial at the ICC.
The ICC on Thursday also announced that a group of 20 victims of the post-election violence had withdrawn from the case against Ruto.
Citing its own judges, the Hague-based court said that the victims told their lawyer “that they no longer wish to continue participating in the present proceedings”.
The judges added: “The decision to withdraw could have been motivated by a range of factors including security concerns.”
Ruto went on trial in September, becoming the highest-ranking serving official to do so before the Hague-based ICC.
Kenyatta’s trial was due to start on Tuesday, but has now been postponed to February.
The ICC, the world’s first independent court set up to try the worst crimes, allows victims to take part in trials independent from the prosecution or the defence.
Last month the continental body, the African Union, said the ICC should delay Kenyatta’s trial, in part because Kenya faces increased security challenges after September’s siege on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall that killed 67 people.