Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said he had been “vindicated” after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor dropped charges of crimes against humanity against him.
The announcement yesterday dealt a massive blow to the Hague-based tribunal after a long-running and troubled case.
The ICC’s judges gave prosecutors one week to strengthen their case or drop the charges against Kenyatta, saying a trial could no longer be postponed.
Kenyatta, who has maintained his innocence throughout, reacted by saying his conscience was “absolutely clear” in the case linked to the country’s 2007-2008 post-election violence, the worst in Kenya’s history since it won independence from Britain in 1963.
“For the prosecutor to sustain an obviously deficient case for so long demonstrates beyond doubt the intensity of pressure exerted by improper interests to pollute and undermine the philosophy of international justice,” said Kenyatta.
He vowed to fight on until the two remaining cases at the ICC against Kenyans, including one against his deputy William Ruto, were dropped.
“As they say, one case down, two more to go,” Kenyatta said in a Twitter message.
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called the decision “a dark day for international criminal justice”.
“This is a painful moment for the men, women and children who have suffered tremendously from the horrors of the post-election violence,” she said.
Bensouda said “the evidence has not improved to such an extent that Mr Kenyatta’s alleged criminal responsibility can be proven beyond reasonable doubt”.
Bensouda said the case was withdrawn “without prejudice”, meaning that should there be enough evidence against Kenyatta in the future, new charges could be laid.
Kenyatta (53) faced five charges including murder, rape and deportation for allegedly masterminding post-election violence in the east African country in which more than 1?200 people died and 600?000 were displaced.
Legal experts said the announcement – after a marathon four-year investigation that was littered with allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony – was an enormous blow for Bensouda’s office and the ICC. The ICC was set up in 2002 to probe the world’s gravest crimes.
“It’s the court’s biggest setback since its establishment at the turn of the century,” said Eugene Kontorovich, international law professor at Chicago’s Northwestern University.
Prosecutors, in a last-ditch effort to build a case against Kenyatta, asked judges to postpone the trial and rule that Nairobi refused to cooperate in a request to hand over documents which prosecutors said may prove his guilt.
But on Wednesday the ICC’s judges slapped down the request, instead giving Bensouda’s office seven days to beef up the charges or drop them.
Bensouda yesterday blamed Nairobi for the case’s collapse, saying she had “persistently sought to secure the cooperation that my office required from the government of Kenya, in this case in order to execute my mandate”.
Kenyatta’s lawyer Steven Kay, who repeatedly pressed judges to acquit his client, demanded an apology.
“They [the prosecutors] were warned?...?from the beginning that this case was fabricated,” Kay told AFP by email.