The International Criminal Court (ICC) has rejected the appeal of four high-profile Kenyans that the court in The Hague does not have jurisdiction to try them for orchestrating post-election violence from late 2007 to early 2008. The unanimous ruling, which was handed down by the five-judge appeals chamber presided over by the Ghanaian judge Akua Kuenyehia, means that the ICC trial will go ahead in the Netherlands although the date is not yet known.
Facing trial are Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's deputy prime minister and former finance minister; Francis Muthaura, former head of the civil service; William Ruto, former higher education minister; Joshua Sang, head of radio station Kass FM. Charges against two others were dropped at the end of 2011.
The accusation against the four include the orchestration of murder, rape, forcible transfer and persecution in the aftermath of the December 2007 election, whose results were disputed by supporters of the two main opponents: current president Mwai Kibaki and incumbent prime minister Raila Odinga.
A particularly bloody period in Kenyan history ensued, with at least 1,220 people are believed to have been killed during widespread ethnic violence, and between 180,000 and 250,000 are thought to have been displaced.
The four defendants have denied the charges and have attempted to move the trial either to Kenya itself or to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.
Both Kenyatta, who launched the National Alliance party in mid-May, and Ruto, who formed his own United Republican Party in January 2012, are running for president in Kenya’s next general elections, which the electoral and boundaries commission has scheduled for 4 March 2013.
The coming elections are the first since the bloodshed in 2008 and the first under the new constitution, which was signed in August 2011 after a referendum.
Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, and Ruto – once a member of Odinga’s Orange Party – are standing against Odinga, the present favourite to succeed the outgoing Kibaki, who is unable to stand for a third term in office.
Kenya’s International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), which was established to address the legacy of human rights violations following the 2007 elections, said the trials should continue at The Hague as the judicial mechanisms in Kenya were not robust enough to try such a landmark case. Although Kenya has confirmed its cooperation with the ICC, and the suspects have agreed to comply with the court, the Kenyan government has long been critical of the war crimes court.
After charges were confirmed against the four in January this year, Kenyatta resigned as finance minister and Muthaura resigned from his top role in the civil service. The four defendants have voluntarily attended court hearings and all of them remain free in Kenya.