Kenya’s current president Uhuru Kenyatta is presently facing charges by the International Criminal Court concerning post-election violence in 2007. Kenyatta’s trial was originally to occur on February 5th of this year, but has been postponed per request of the prosecution as their supply of evidence slowly evaporates. The Kenyatta case has been marked with the government’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation as well as witnesses repeatedly withdrawing their evidence. Combined with Kenyatta’s adamant statements that he is innocent of all accusations, mainly his alleged role in organized violence in 2007 that included murder, rape, and forcible population transfer, it is unclear whether this trial will ever proceed.
The ICC has often been criticized for its seemingly narrow focus on African leaders. The ICC has opened cases in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Uganda, and Cote d’Ivoire (all of which were opened at the request of those countries). This acquiescence is essential for ICC cases, as the success of the court is often reliant on the cooperation of the country at hand. This case is marked by insistent statements by Kenyatta referencing the ICC’s African focus and concurrent neglect of other Western countries. In a speech by Kenyatta, he stated that the ICC “stopped being the home of justice the day it became the toy of declining imperial powers.” This is a fair accusation, considering the historical focus of the court; the ICC does have investigations in Afghanistan and Colombia, but they are in the preliminary stages. Acknowledging this bias, Human Rights Watch’s International Justice program director, Richard Dicker, argues that though the court may be uneven in its treatment of leaders, there is still “no excuse to deny justice to victims where it’s possible.”
In this case, this justice may be necessary to ensure a successful and continuing democracy in Kenya. For the victims of the election violence in 2007 (over 1,000 dead and even thousands more displaced), impunity of those who were responsible for the organized violence would almost guarantee a complete distrust in the justice system. After six years of waiting, the victims of this violence, who have lost loved ones, businesses, and homes, have received small financial reparations or nothing at all. What are the consequences if this case does not go to trial? Quoted in a GlobalPost article, Fergal Gaynor, the legal representative of the victims, stated “They have very little faith in local courts and believe that judges and prosecutors are easily bribed. This is one of the reasons why they had expected that the ICC would be better able to overcome efforts to interfere with justice than the domestic court could be.” How dangerous is this potential loss of faith in the ICC? More importantly, what kind of precedent does this set for African leaders who could face similar charges by the ICC?
It will be interesting to see if this case ever goes to trial, and if so, the effect of the ruling on African citizenry.