October 31st, 2013
12:31 PM ET

Why Kenya’s president must face ICC

By Netsanet Belay, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Netsanet Belay is Africa director at Amnesty International. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Like so many thousands of Kenyans, Pamela, David and Kanu are all still struggling to piece their lives together nearly six years after the violence that rocked parts of Kenya following the elections in December 2007.

Finding work, feeding their children and recovering from physical and psychological trauma are just some of their everyday battles.

“I suffered a lot because I have only one hand, but I have been completely forgotten,” Kanu recently told Amnesty International. His arm was hacked off with a machete after he tried to save a woman from being raped by 17 men amid the post-election violence.

Life for Pamela, a 24-year-old mother of four, is still incredibly difficult. She has a bullet lodged in her chest after police fired through the wall of her mud hut. After the incident, she tried to follow up the case with the police. The individual she believes shot her still works in a nearby suburb.

David, a former taxi driver, has struggled to support his family since a bullet to the knee cut short his career. He told Amnesty International that when he tried to report what happened to him to the police, they did nothing.

“Instead of helping me, they tried to arrest me for reporting on the government. I haven’t spoken to them since,” he said. “There is no justice in Kenya, because since I was injured, we reported and nothing was done.”

These are only three of the thousands of victims of unthinkable atrocities during Kenya’s 2007/2008 post-election violence, when more than 1,000 people died and 600,000 were forced out of their homes. The clashes erupted in December 2007 between groups supporting the winner of the presidential elections and his main rival.

In late 2009 the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) stepped in, when it became clear that Kenya was unable to provide the much-needed justice and reparations to victims of the post-election violence. The Court charged Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, both senior political figures at the time on opposing sides, with crimes against humanity including murder, forcible population transfer, and persecution. Joshua arap Sang, a radio journalist, was also charged with similar crimes.

Kenyatta was also accused of responsibility for rape and other inhumane acts – including forced circumcision and penile amputation – carried out by the Mungiki, a criminal gang allegedly under his control. Ruto and Sang’s trial began on September 10. Kenyatta’s trial was originally scheduled to begin on November 12 but has now been postponed until February.

The Kenyan government has been campaigning against the trials since the charges were laid. In recent months, they have secured the support of the African Union, which has tried to discredit the Court in the hope the cases would be dropped. AU representatives have argued that no sitting head of state or government should appear before the ICC, and they have threatened mass withdrawal of African countries from the Rome Statute which governs the ICC.

On Thursday, at an informal meeting, they will try to persuade the U.N. Security Council to back a deferral of the case against Kenyatta and Ruto, citing the recent tragic attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Regardless, the ICC has announced today that it will postpone Kenyatta's trial until February. But while the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court provides for cases to be deferred in exceptional circumstances, the deferral of these cases is a serious blow to justice for the thousands of Kenyans who look to the Court as their only hope.

“Since they were given the opportunity to do the cases [in Kenya], and they failed, then the cases should continue,” Pamela said.

Time and time again, Kenya has shown itself to be unable and unwilling to deliver justice at home. Over the past few years, Kenya’s authorities have promised to investigate the abuses of 2007/2008 and bring those responsible to justice. But little action has been taken and prosecutions have been minimal, with the majority of victims now feeling that their case has been forgotten.

In 2008, a government-appointed Commission of Inquiry into the post-election violence declared that a special tribunal should be established. The Kenyan parliament voted against proposed legislation to set up the tribunal, paving the way for the International Criminal Court to begin investigations.

Members of the Security Council have a huge responsibility in their hands. A refusal to accept the AU’s request to defer the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto at the International Criminal Court will send a strong and powerful message to the thousands of victims and survivors that impunity will not prevail.

For people like Pamela, David and Kanu, the alternative is, simply, unthinkable.

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Topics: Africa • Human Rights

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. BuriteSaidSo

    Granted. Justice has to be done. But justice must also appreciate some realities.

    October 31, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Uhuru Kenyatta has always said he would co-operate with the ICC. So he should travel to the Hague and stand trial, the sooner the better. No doubt he's keen on having his name cleared, if he has nothing to do with the violent attacks following the disputed 2007 election.
      That he needed more time to deal with the aftermath of the attack on the Westgate shopping centre was just a bloody excuse.

      November 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  2. lulu

    more catholic than the pope . netsanet is trying to be more western than ICC themselves .if ICC really stand for justice it has to prosecute numerous crimes all over the world not just in Africa .
    she is just trying to justify the big bucks she is getting at amnesty .

    October 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      Excellent comment, lulu.

      October 31, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      The ICC also needs to indict Barack Obama for the slaughter on innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen by those ungodly drones and Apache helicopters if it stands for justice at all! Obama himsef could stop this ignominy but won't do so just to please his right-wing henchmen and the war lobby.

      October 31, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Reply
      • Davy

        The US is not signitory to the Rome Statute and hence not under their jurisdiction. Also, Indicting Obama and Bush does not deliver justice to the victims of the post-election violence in Kenya

        November 2, 2013 at 8:36 am |
      • Krivka

        Right after they indict Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for starting the wars.

        November 2, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • ✠RZ✠

      If religion beget governance, the notion of its' masters (ie. Jesus Christ) being good shepherds would then have us believe that any followers are merely sheep. And as sheep, human rights, amongst a plethora of other relevancies, are simply not applicable. So as long as the human masses are content to be looked after and herded by their masters, then that is exactly what they will be taught and subjected to. Goodness knows what the world would be like if sheep could say more then "baaahhhh" and we're allowed "open carry".

      November 1, 2013 at 8:14 am | Reply
  3. JAL

    Transparent due diligence can go a long way.

    October 31, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  4. Ugas

    True, Kenyatta should be held accountable for those crimes. But, the ICC loses credibility when it turns a blind eye by attrocities comitted by next door Ethiopia (US ally) against innocent Civilians in Ogaden region.

    November 1, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Reply
  5. Phelix Unger

    If those of you wish to rage against the injustice of the Geneva courts when it comes to other individuals, have at it, get as mad as you want. Just don't let these two who were directly involved in the slaughter and torture of their own people get lost in your anger. They should be tried as quickly as possible and sentenced for their crimes. Then rail against other injustices all you like, lobby the courts to do a better job of dealing with all the war criminals out there. Justice delayed is not justice done. Especially for the victims of all crimes.

    November 1, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  6. Joe

    Neither Phelix nor Amnesty have anyone's destiny in their hands, GOD does!

    November 2, 2013 at 6:28 am | Reply
    • Phelix Unger

      God is a figment of your imagination and as such an imaginary being has control over nothing. If you wish to argue about mythical beings might I suggest the "belief blog".

      November 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  7. onesmus from kenya

    I think the court is prosecuting the wrong people. The individuals who carried weapons against their neighbors should be brought to justice and not those people who sat in offices. my point is this if there is a very clear video clip showing a speech from these leaders to incite people then they are guilty but any other evidence whether from an eyewitness or anywhere should be treated as mere fabrications made to defame a person.

    November 2, 2013 at 10:35 am | Reply
    • Justin s. from America

      eyewitness accounts should be treated as mere fabrications on what grounds?

      November 2, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Reply
    • Admin

      What evidence do you have that they are prosecuting the wrong people?

      November 3, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  8. Sharpy

    We have evidence showing the Mayor of Toronto smoking a crack pipe but we cannot prosecute for lack of evidence! Thus a video showing say shootings could be dismissed because how do I know those are real bullets in that gun, dead victims could be from any gun. Burden of proof is a threshold that is different for various classes, low for the poor and very high for government officals and the rich!

    November 5, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  9. Nameprinc*

    The role ov the icc is to bring justice to the people who peddled the war when the suspects begun their trial now it turns that we should be extracted from da hague .surely why are african leaders trying to gumble with lives or do they know that the rich can also cry with their dictatorship styles.

    November 7, 2013 at 12:58 am | Reply

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