Kenya’s parliament has been recalled to debate ending its membership of the International Criminal Court, in advance of a crimes-against-humanity trial of the vice-president starting next week.
Joyce Laboso, the parliamentary deputy speaker, issued on Tuesday the order for the “special sitting of the assembly”, with parliament to meet on Thursday.
However, even if Kenya choses to leave the ICC – the first country potentially to do so – this will not affect upcoming trials since legal proceedings have already begun.
The ICC trial opened of Vice-President William Ruto, who is facing three counts of crimes against humanity for allegedly organising 2007-2008 post-election unrest that killed at least 1,100 people and displaced more than 600,000.
Ruto’s trial comes about two months before that of President Uhuru Kenyatta on November 12, who faces five charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution, deportation and other inhumane acts.
Both Kenyatta and Ruto have said they will cooperate fully with the court but deny the charges against them.
Politicians are expected to debate and vote on a possible departure from the Rome Statute of the ICC, following a request from the senate’s majority leader Kithure Kindiki.
“Any law in this country or internationally like the Rome Statute can be repealed and can be amended,” said Asman Kamama, one of at least 30 legislators supporting Kindiki’s petition.
“It is not cast in stone and we want to be the trail-blazers in the continent.”
The Jubilee Coalition party of Kenyatta and Ruto dominate both houses of Kenya’s parliament.
The Hague-based court was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes, and countries voluntarily signed up to join.
The Kenyan legislators will debate a motion on whether to pull out from the ICC, but any actual withdrawal requires the submission of a formal request to the UN, a process that would take at least a year.
Ruto will be the first senior politician to stand trial for crimes carried out during the violence, with Human Rights Watch this week stressing the importance of the ICC as “a court of last resort”.