THE HAGUE/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s deputy president played an important role in the post-election bloodbath that engulfed Kenya in early 2008, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor told judges at the opening of his trial yesterday.
The most senior serving politician to appear in the dock at the Hague court, William Ruto pleaded not guilty to crimes against humanity in a case that some Kenyans fear could reignite the political violence they have struggled to put behind them.
Ruto and co-defendant Joshua arap Sang are accused of working with other conspirators to murder, deport and persecute supporters of rival parties in the Rift Valley region.
“He assigned responsibilities, raised finance, procured weapons,” over the 18 months leading up to the elections, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the court. “When the election was lost, he gave the order to attack.
“The crimes of which Mr. Ruto and Mr. Sang are charged were not just random and spontaneous acts of brutality,” she said. “This was a carefully planned and executed plan … Ruto’s ultimate goal was to seize political power for himself and his party in the event he could not do so via the ballot box.”
Ruto appeared relaxed ahead of procedings, laughing and smiling with his lawyers, while Sang gave the thumbs-up to a reporter. Dozens of supporters packed the visitors’ gallery.
Prosecutors said their first witness, who had been due to speak this week, would not appear until next Tuesday. Some witnesses have pulled out in the run-up to the trial, a setback prosecutors said was due to intimidation.
Ruto’s spokesman said the deputy president would return to Kenya today, after the prosecutor said witnesses had yet to arrive in the Netherlands. He would then go back to the Hague next Tuesday when the first witness is expected to testify.
Ruto’s lawyer accused prosecutors of using tainted evidence and false testimony, and called on them to drop the charges. President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ruto’s former rival and now his political ally, will be tried on similar charges in November.
Rival members of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu and Ruto’s Kalenjin tribes, wielding machetes, knives, and bows and arrows, went on the rampage after the disputed election, butchering more than 1,200 people and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes.