Kenyatta trial postponed until February

Kenyan president charged with orchestrating violence following disputed 2007 election

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta is due to become the first sitting president to be placed in the dock of the International Criminal Court. Photograph: Reuters/Noor Khamis

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta is due to become the first sitting president to be placed in the dock of the International Criminal Court. Photograph: Reuters/Noor Khamis

Fri, Nov 1, 2013, 01:00


The trial of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta for crimes against humanity has been put off until February next, in the latest round of a case increasingly perceived as a battle of wills between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its critics in the African Union (AU).

Mr Kenyatta is due to become the first sitting president to be placed in the ICC dock, and proceeding with the trial is being taken as an important test of the court’s credibility – especially in the face of accusations that it has targeted only African leaders for prosecution, which it denies.

A meeting of the AU last month urged the president to boycott the trial, and has also asked the UN security council to defer the case on the grounds that Mr Kenyatta’s presence in Nairobi is essential to regional security following the Westgate Centre attack by Islamist militants in September.


Wave of violence
It was on that basis too that defence lawyers for Mr Kenyatta – who is charged with orchestrating a wave of violence in which some 1,200 people were killed following Kenya’s disputed 2007 election – asked the ICC judges this week to abandon the trial’s original start date of November 12th.

A delay became inevitable on Wednesday evening when it emerged that the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had decided not to oppose that application for an adjournment.

A number of new witnesses had been added to the prosecution’s case, Ms Bensouda said, while the defence was also in the process of introducing fresh allegations which, she accepted, “merit further investigation”.

However, while agreeing to the defence application for an adjournment, the prosecutor emphasised she did not accept that Mr Kenyatta’s duties as president, taken in isolation, were reason enough to delay the case.

The judges’ chamber granted a postponement until February 5th – while asking both sides to ensure that no further delays were necessary, in the “interests of justice, of fairness and expeditiousness, and in particular, of the victims and witnesses”. “The chamber deeply regrets that repeated adjournments of the trial have been necessary because one or both parties have required more time to prepare,” said the judges.

Victims’ representatives last night reacted with “deep disappointment and frustration” to the court’s decision.

“The wait for justice has already been far too long,” said Fergal Gaynor, the Irish lawyer representing the victims.

“We owe it to the many women who were raped, to the families of those killed with such shocking and senseless brutality, and to the children who suffer to this day from the horrors they experienced in January 2008, to redouble our commitment to justice.”