Justice must run its course in the cases against Kenya’s president and deputy president, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said, ahead of a vote in Kenya’s parliament on whether to withdraw from the Hague-based court.
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto are accused of orchestrating violence after elections in 2007 in which 1,200 people lost their lives.
“The judicial process is now in motion at the International Criminal Court. Justice must run its course,” said Fatou Bensouda, the court’s chief prosecutor, in a video statement on the court’s website, on Thursday.
Ruto’s trial comes about two months ahead of that of Kenyatta, who faces five charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution and deportation.
Both Kenyatta and Ruto have said they will cooperate fully with the court and deny the charges against them.
Also due to appear in The Hague is radio boss Joshua Arap Sang, accused of inciting violence.
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi, said: “More will happen after the motion is passed,” adding that another bill will be presented to parliament which then needs to be signed off by the president.
Regarding popular support for the motion, she went on to say, “It really depends on which side you look at. The ruling coalition says this debate is being supported, but surveys show that Kenyans don’t want hteir own country to pull out of the court.”
Many Kenyan politicians have branded the ICC a “neo-colonialist” institution that only targets Africans, prompting the debate on a possible departure from the Rome Statute of the ICC.
“Any law in this country or internationally like the Rome Statute can be repealed and can be amended,” said Asman Kamama, one of the lawmakers supporting a pull-out.
“It is not cast in stone and we want to be the trail blazers in the continent.”
The Jubilee Coalition of Kenyatta and Ruto dominate both Kenya’s National Assembly and Senate.
The Hague-based court was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes, and countries voluntarily sign up to join.
Any actual withdrawal requires the submission of a formal request to the United Nations, a process that would take at least a year.
A withdrawal could however preclude the ICC from investigating and prosecuting any future crimes.
Cases could then only be brought before the court if the government decides to accept ICC jurisdiction or the UN Security Council makes a referral.
Amnesty International condemned the move.
“This move is just the latest in a series of disturbing initiatives to undermine the work of the ICC in Kenya and across the continent,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty’s Africa director.
The rights group called on “each and every parliamentarian to stand against impunity and reject this proposal,” warning that “a withdrawal would strip the Kenyan people of one of the most important human rights protections and potentially allow crimes to be committed with impunity in the future.”
Kenya’s 2007 elections were marred by allegations of vote rigging, but what began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings and reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of violence since independence in 1963.
Kenyatta and Ruto were fierce rivals in the 2007 vote, but teamed up together and were elected in March in peaceful polls.