Kenyatta becomes first president to appear before ICC

By admin
08 October 2014

Kenya's Uhuru 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.

Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday became the first sitting president to appear before the International Criminal Court where he has been charged with crimes against humanity.

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

Wearing a charcoal suit and blue tie, a relaxed-looking Kenyatta spoke with his lawyer before the start of the status conference.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who has alleged witness intimidation and that Nairobi is withholding evidence, was also present.

Many Kenyatta supporters and Kenyan MPs were in the packed public gallery, with some frustrated at not being allowed access.

Judge Kuniko Ozaki told Kenyatta that he was present "solely in your capacity as an accused individual".

"You may speak only in your capacity as an accused and may not make statements either of a political nature or in your official capacity," as president, Ozaki said.

Kenyatta's lawyer Stephen Kay said however that his client would not address the court.

"I will be answering questions on his (Kenyatta's) behalf and he does not choose to make a statement today," Kay said.

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, although a decision is not expected on Wednesday.

A handful of demonstrators sang and danced outside the ICC ahead of Kenyatta's arrival, many of them dressed in Kenyan colours.

One large banner read: "Hands off our prez, he is innocent."

"We had to come today because of course he is innocent, he never participated in any killings," said Paul Kobia from Nairobi (46).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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