NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s deputy president left for The Hague on Monday to face trial on charges that he helped orchestrate the country’s 2007-08 postelection violence.
William Ruto is due to appear Tuesday at the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity. More than 1,000 Kenyans were killed during weeks of vicious tribe-on-tribe attacks following a disputed presidential vote in late 2007 that took Kenya to the brink of civil war.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta faces similar charges of helping to orchestrate the violence. Both leaders have pledged to cooperate with the court, but the current court schedule has Kenyatta and Ruto in The Hague at the same time in November, something Kenyatta said over the weekend is not possible.
The trial is the culmination of years of work by International Criminal Court investigators after Kenyan authorities failed to hold to account any of the leaders of the violence. It is the first time a sitting president is being tried at the ICC.
While Kenyans once overwhelmingly supported the intervention of the ICC, opinion — soured in part by the long passage of time — has turned against the international body.
Kenya’s parliament last week passed a voice vote motion to withdraw from the ICC. The vote is symbolic and non-binding; only Kenya’s government can decide to withdraw from the ICC and it will have no effect on the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto.
But the vote was carried out by the majority in parliament, which Kenyan voters put into office in March, the same time they voted in Kenyatta and Ruto, who were under indictments by the ICC. The pair’s election campaign had played up the idea that the West was meddling in Kenyan affairs.
Ngujiri Wambugu, a prominent social activist in Kenya, once helped collect more than 1 million signatures in support of an ICC intervention, after Kenyan prosecutors failed to bring forward significant judicial action. Today, Wambugu is against the ICC intervention, because it has a “fundamentally flawed execution capacity.”
“I would like to suggest that the court listen very carefully to what Kenya, and Africa, is saying. That is the only way that they will understand that whereas Kenyans want to get to the bottom of what happened in 2007, we will not chose that over an opportunity to forge ahead as a young nation-state if put in that position,” Wambugu wrote.
“It is quite clear ICC is not being fair,” Wambugu said in a column that asked why the leaders of the United States and Britain haven’t been indicted for the invasion of Iraq, or why Syrian President Bashar Assad is not being held responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths over the last year in Syria.
Kenyatta over the weekend again pledged that he and Ruto would cooperate with the court, but added that he and his deputy couldn’t be in the court at the same time.
“One of us must remain behind to run affairs of the state,” Kenyatta said.
The two leaders spent the weekend in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where hundreds of Kenyan families booted from their homes during the 2007-08 violence still live in shabby United Nations tents. The government gave the internally displaced families a check for about $5,000 each — enough to buy a small plot of land — in an attempt to close one of the sadder chapters of Kenya’s internal violence.
On Sunday Kenyatta and Ruto attended church together. The two invoked the name of God frequently during the weekend.
“God, who enabled us to win elections and bring peace in this country, will be the same one to enable us to win in that court,” Ruto said.
“God will enable us to go there and clean our names and embarrass those who thought Kenya would not progress,” Kenyatta said, saying at another stop: “We know we are innocent and we will go there and defend ourselves. We will prove wrong those lies, and the truth will stand.”
The Nairobi newspaper Daily Nation on Monday ran a two-page spread of photos from the post-vote violence, including the scarred face of a man who apparently was hacked by a machete. What the headline called the “Orgy of Violence” that nearly led to a full-blown Kenyan civil war took 2,079 days to reach a court proceeding at The Hague.