International court to inquire into Kenya's election violence

 

KENYAN POLITICIANS face the possibility of indictment for crimes against humanity after the International Criminal Court in The Hague ordered an investigation into the country’s post-election violence.

More than 1,000 people were killed in unrest after a general election in December 2007. Allegations that Mwai Kibaki, the president, had rigged his way to victory triggered the violence, which escalated along ethnic lines and prompted more than 350,000 people to flee their homes.

Two out of three judges in the ICC’s pre-trial chamber yesterday ruled in favour of an application for a formal investigation made by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor.

Several Kenyan cabinet ministers are believed to be among those suspected of orchestrating the violence. Their names were on a secret list compiled by Kenya’s human rights commission and handed to Mr Moreno-Ocampo in July.

As a signatory to the Rome Statute which created the ICC, Kenya would be legally obliged to hand over any politicians for trial if they were charged.

The country is governed by a fragile coalition between Mr Kibaki and Raila Odinga – his leading opponent, who serves as prime minister.

If senior politicians were indicted, analysts fear it could threaten the government’s survival. Both Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga have promised to co-operate with the ICC.

The ruling represents a departure for the ICC, which was established in 2002 with a mandate only to intervene if national legal systems were unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute.

This is also the first time the court has opened an investigation without a referral either by a national government or the UN Security Council.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo, who has said political leaders in Kenya organised and financed attacks on civilians, welcomed the ruling, saying it meant “there will be no impunity for those most responsible”.

He added: “The ICC will do its part, but Kenyans will be in the lead.” The court said the two judges decided there was “a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed”, but added that the decision took into account “the low threshold [of evidence] applicable at this stage”.

However, a third judge issued a dissenting opinion, saying there was not enough evidence to show the killings and violence represented “a policy stemming from a state or an organisation”, which he saw as fundamental to the court’s definition of a crime against humanity.

Kenya’s own government failed to create a local tribunal to hold accountable those responsible for the violence. Because the country was unwilling or unable to take this step, an opening was created for the ICC. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010)