Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta has been ordered to appear before judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) next month, even though he was officially informed at the weekend that his landmark trial for crimes against humanity would not go ahead, due to lack of evidence.
MPs of the president’s ruling Jubilee coalition, who claim the charges against him are politically motivated, are to hold a special meeting in Nairobi tomorrow to decide whether he should attend the hearing – or boycott it, seeing it as an attempt to “humiliate” him.
The leader of Kenya’s national assembly, Aden Duale, described the summons from The Hague as “sinister”, observing: “President Kenyatta is the duly elected president of a sovereign country. If there is no evidence against him, then why should the ICC summons him?”
Mr Kenyatta (52) pleads not guilty to masterminding post- election violence in 2008 that left more than 1,200 people dead, and the circumstances in which the case against him collapsed go some way towards answering Mr Duale’s question.
Just a week ago, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was forced to admit – for the second time –that she would not be in a position to open proceedings on October 7th, as scheduled, due to lack of evidence relating to the president's bank statements and telephone records.
Normally this would be enough for the charges to be withdrawn, Ms Bensouda conceded. But because, she alleged, the lack of evidence was the result of obstructionism by the Kenyan government she asked the court to take the unprecedented step of adjourning the case indefinitely.
The trial of Mr Kenyatta would have been the first time in its 12-year history that a sitting president has appeared in the dock at the ICC – and the most important test so far of the court’s ability to hold ruling elites to account where credible allegations are levelled.
However, in a ruling on Friday, the judges issued an order “vacating” October 7th as the opening date for the trial, while instructing Mr Kenyatta to attend a status conference the following day, to be attended by the prosecution, the defence, and counsel for the victims.
Lawyers for the president have repeatedly asked for the charges to be dismissed for lack of evidence, while counsel for the victims, Irish lawyer Fergal Gaynor, has warned to abandon the case would show that "state obstruction of access to evidence is a viable strategy".
The question last night was whether Mr Kenyatta would be allowed to appear before the court by video link.
“If the accused wishes to attend via video link, he could make a request to the [judges’] chamber . . . At the moment no such request has been made,” said an ICC spokeswoman.
On the first anniversary of the Westgate shopping mall attack which left 67 dead, Mr Kenyatta promised on Sunday to “stay the course” against al-Shabaab militants.