Kenyatta becomes first president to appear before ICC

By Drum Digital
08 October 2014

Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday became the first sitting president to appear before the International Criminal Court, where his lawyer sought an acquittal on charges of crimes against humanity.

Kenyatta, who handed power to his deputy before flying to The Hague, was summoned to answer questions at his floundering trial for allegedly masterminding deadly post-election violence in 2007-2008.

"The case has failed. It has failed in a way that there's no prospect to go further," Kenyatta's lawyer Steven Kay said after the prosecution admitted it did not have enough evidence because Nairobi was allegedly not cooperating.

"It would be an affront to common sense to say that we are not entitled to an acquittal," Kay told the court as a public gallery packed with Kenyatta supporters looked on.

Kenyatta spoke to his supporters on the steps of the ICC's fortress-like building after the hearing, thanking them for coming to court.

"We came here today which is what they wanted -- and still there is nothing," said Kenyatta, referring to the lack of evidence in the prosecution's case.

The repeatedly-delayed case has seen at least seven prosecution witnesses drop out, allegedly through bribes and intimidation.

Judges could decide to send the case to trial or to abandon it after the prosecution said it did not have enough evidence.

They could also find, as the prosecution has requested, that Kenya is not cooperating, and postpone the case pending a referral to the Assembly of States Parties of countries that have signed the ICC's founding Rome Statute.

"There is no time limit in this type of decision. The judges will now deliberate and issue their finding in due course," ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told AFP.

Kenyatta, 52, faces five counts at the ICC over his alleged role in orchestrating unrest in 2007 and 2008 that left 1,200 people dead and 600,000 displaced.

The Kenyan leader has appeared at the ICC before, but not since he was elected president in March 2013.

Kenyatta arrived in The Hague on Tuesday, having temporarily handed power to his deputy and erstwhile political opponent William Ruto.

Ruto is already on trial at the ICC for his part in the violence, while Kenyatta's trial has yet to begin despite a drawn-out three-and-a-half-year legal saga.

Wearing a charcoal suit, white shirt and blue tie, a relaxed-looking Kenyatta -- who did not speak at the hearing -- listened intently and at times had a bemused look on his face as the prosecution spoke.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda last month asked for an indefinite postponement, saying Nairobi had refused to cooperate with a request for financial and other statements, so she did not have enough evidence for a trial.

They want Kenyatta's bank statements, tax records and telephone records relating to the period of unrest. They believe that the documents could prove Kenyatta's part in bankrolling and orchestrating the violence.

Prosecutor Ben Gumpert said on Wednesday that since being elected, Kenyatta had "an exceptional constitutional duty to make sure that these obstructions do not take place".

The prosecution hopes the documents will shed light on Kenyatta's alleged involvement in the violence that brought one of east Africa's most stable countries to the brink of civil war.

Bitter memories are still fresh from 2007, when elections escalated into ethnic conflict, for which Kenyatta and Ruto were charged with crimes against humanity. Both reject the charges.

The African Union had previously called for the ICC cases to be withdrawn and transferred to Kenyan courts, accusing the ICC of targeting Africans.

Kenya's post-electoral unrest shattered the east African country's image as a beacon of regional stability.

What began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings of Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe, who in return launched reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of unrest since independence in 1963.

-SAPA

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