AMSTERDAM/NAIROBI, (Reuters) – Kenya’s parliament voted yesterday to quit the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, but the Hague-based tribunal said it would press ahead anyway with the trials of the country’s president and his deputy.
Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are accused of orchestrating violence after elections in 2007. About 1,200 people were killed in ethnic blood-letting that plunged east Africa’s biggest economy into crisis.
Both men had promised to cooperate with the global court before the vote, a position echoed by Ruto’s lawyer just before the decision on Thursday. But neither were available for comment on whether that was still their position after the decision.
The parliamentary motion underlined mounting hostility against the court among politicians in Kenya and across Africa who have accused it of bias as all its suspects to date have been from the continent.
Ruto’s trial starts on Tuesday and Kenyatta’s in November, despite Kenyan efforts to have the cases dropped or moved nearer home. Both have denied the charges.
Parliament, dominated by the alliance that brought Kenyatta to power in a peaceful election in March, voted to tell the government to withdraw from the ICC.
“I am setting the stage to redeem the image of the Republic of Kenya,” Aden Duale, the majority leader from Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition, said on behalf of the motion.
Opposing him, minority leader Francis Nyenze warned: “We’ll be seen as a pariah state, we’ll be seen as people who are reactionary and who want to have their way.”
Under parliamentary procedure, the government will now introduce a bill to cut ties with the court formally. The ICC said any departure would take at least a year and it would have no effect on running cases.
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said earlier on Thursday both cases would go ahead. She said there had been repeated threats and bribes aimed at persuading relatives of witnesses in the cases to disclose their whereabouts.
“Witnesses have gone to great lengths to risk their lives and the lives of their relatives to support our investigations and prosecutions,” the prosecutor said on the court’s website.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said Kenya, by withdrawing from the court, would prevent the court giving “legal protection to the Kenyan population for potential crimes in the future”.
Human Rights Watch said Kenya’s “political establishment” was denying Kenyans the right to the justice their courts have failed to deliver. Kenyan legal expert George Kegoro said the main danger would be if the vote was used to “shield” suspects.
Defying the court can be costly. Sudan’s isolation by the West deepened after an arrest warrant was issued for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over charges of genocide in Darfur.