With Its Leaders Facing Trial, Kenya Quits International Criminal Court

Article excerpt

A day after Kenya turned its back on the International Criminal Court (ICC), officials at the Hague-based tribunal say they will not allow Kenya's vice president to move the court hearings to East Africa.

Yesterday Kenya's parliament voted to pull out of the ICC - the first African country to do so. That decision comes shortly before the ICC starts trials of Kenya's president and vice president. So far both men have said they will appear at The Hague, but speculation has begun that the vote may be the first step toward cutting off cooperation.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto were indicted for mass violence and deaths after the 2007 elections. Ruto faces trial at the ICC next week, on Sept. 10, and Kenyatta on Nov. 12.

This summer ICC officials hinted that they might allow parts of Ruto's trial to take place in Kenya or Tanzania. But today, less than 24 hours after Kenyan lawmakers in a raucous session voted to leave the ICC, the possibility was ended.

Inside Kenya and in many African quarters, a juggernaut of anti- ICC sentiment has been building.

As the Monitor 's Mike Pflanz reported yesterday:

Kenya will become the first country to pull out of the International Criminal Court after legislators Thursday staged what amounted to a parliamentary revolt against the trials of the president and his deputy, scheduled to start next week.

An overwhelming majority of National Assembly members voted after four hours of largely one-sided debate to "withdraw from the Rome Statute," the treaty that established the world court in 2002.

The move was a clear snub to Kenya's traditional allies in the West, who largely support the ICC and who have warned that Kenya risks isolation if its leaders fail to attend their trials.

Though it will likely play well with the many ordinary Kenyans whose support for the ICC has eroded as cases have dragged on, the vote will, in fact, have no effect on the eight separate charges of crimes against humanity faced by Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's president, or William Ruto, his deputy. Mr. Ruto's trial begins Tuesday in The Hague.

"A government's decision would not change Kenya's obligation under international law ... to fully cooperate with the ICC in respect of cases that have already been initiated," says Fadi El Abdallah, spokesman for the ICC.

"It's not possible to stop independent judicial and legal proceedings via political measures."

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC's chief prosecutor, put it more bluntly: "The judicial process is now in motion," she says. "Justice must run its course."

Fewer than half of Kenya's 349 legislators were present in the National Assembly chamber, with its banked rows of red leather- backed chairs and heavy red, green and black carpet.

Lawmaker Aden Duale, began the debate by saying the motion would "protect the sovereignty of our country and of our citizens" and "redeem the image of Kenya."

Another legislator, during raucous speeches, said it was time to condemn the ICC to "the cesspool of history."

Mass walkout

Opposition legislators, who had said they would try to block the proposition, walked out en masse when they realized that they would not have the numbers to overturn the motion.

One, Jakoyo Midiwo, said before he left the chamber, that it was "a dark day for Kenya" and that the country would "suffer consequences of pulling out."

Mr. Kenyatta, and Ruto, who deny all the ICC charges, are accused of having links to election violence that followed Kenya's 2007 election, when they were political opponents. …