The International Criminal Court has given prosecutors a week to decide whether to proceed with their case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for crimes against humanity or to withdraw the charges.
Prosecutors say Kenyatta, accused of orchestrating a wave of deadly violence after Kenya’s 2007 elections, has used his political power to obstruct their investigation, especially since becoming president last year.
They had asked for the case to be suspended until they had enough evidence to proceed.
The cases against Kenyatta and his Deputy President William Ruto are the highest-profile proceedings in the history of the court set up 11 years ago to try cases concerning grave international crimes that local courts cannot handle.
The court has finished only three cases, all involving little-known Congolese warlords, and has yet to show that it can hold the most powerful offenders to account.
Judges agreed that Kenya had not cooperated in “good faith” with the court, but decided against referring the matter to the body representing the court’s 122 member states, saying a referral would not help bring about a fair trial.
Prosecutors did secure one small victory in that the court did not acquit Kenyatta of the charges, as his lawyers had requested. That means the charges could be brought again in future if more evidence becomes available.
Under the double jeopardy principle, an acquittal would have prevented prosecutors from ever again bringing charges related to Kenyatta’s alleged involvement in the 2007-2008 violence, in which 1,200 were killed.
The case has seen at least seven prosecution witnesses drop out, allegedly through bribes and intimidation.
Kenyatta’s lawyer called for the judges to drop the charges and acquit his client while Kenyatta himself said prosecutors had “nothing” on him.
On Wednesday, judges said if the prosecution’s case could not be strengthened, “the Chamber is of the view that the appropriate course of action would be the prompt withdrawal of the charges.”
“The onus is on the prosecution to present a case ready for trial and… the Chamber considers that the prosecution has had ample time in which to do so,” the judges added.