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6a00e54f9b8373883400e553cf64058834-800wi-1-.jpgKenya’s deputy prime minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, and two others appeared Friday before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity, including orchestrating murder, persecution and rape, linked to Kenya’s disputed election in 2007 and its bloody aftermath.

Three other prominent Kenyans, from an opposing political group, heard similar charges on Thursday in the same court.

The six defendants are the first members of the country’s political elite to be charged with orchestrating the protests and ethnic fighting that killed more than 1,000 people and drove tens of thousands from their homes.

The defendants had been summoned after the international prosecutor decided to act, arguing that Kenya had ignored its commitment to prosecute the organizers of the post-election violence in its own national courts.

After the hearing, Mr. Kenyatta, who is also the country’s finance minister and the son of Kenya’s founding president, told reporters that he was innocent and the charges were “all rubbish.”

Much appears at stake for Mr. Kenyatta and for another leading politician, William Ruto, who appeared in court on Thursday. The two men are expected to be rival candidates in next year’s election, but criminal proceedings could thwart both politicians.

In recent months, the Nairobi government has tried to block the international prosecutor’s action. Hours after the Friday hearing, the United Nations Security Council turned down a second attempt by Kenya to get the council to intervene and suspend the charges for a year. The council can ask the court, which is independent of the United Nations, to postpone action in the event that a criminal case can pose a threat to international peace and security. But Kenya’s diplomats were told by council members that they see no such threat in this case, and diplomats said that Britain, France, the United States and other Western nations were strongly opposed.

Kenyan human rights groups have accused the government of playing for time. They said that the country had long failed to bring people in high places to justice, and that those responsible for political violence and killings linked to earlier elections had escaped punishment.

Louis Moreno-Ocampo, the international prosecutor, said in a telephone interview that the court’s jurisdiction could be still be challenged if Kenya started its own credible proceedings. “But these would have to involve the same people and the same charges and same timing,” he said.

Each of the six people who received summonses to appear in The Hague face charges of crimes against humanity and have said they are not guilty. The prosecutor said that the three defendants in court on Thursday — William Ruto and Henry Kosgey, both former government ministers, and Joshua Sang, a radio talk show host — were involved in a well-prepared plan to attack supporters of the governing party.

Mr. Ruto, one of Kenya’s most divisive political figures, was defiant. He told the court that the accusations “made here sound like they can only be possible in a movie,” which prompted the judge, Ekatrina Trendofila, to order him to sit down and listen to her.

The judge on both days warned the defendants against making incendiary speeches that could revive the violence in Kenya.

The Friday hearing, besides Mr. Kenyatta, included Francis Muthaura, secretary to the cabinet; and Hussein Ali, who was the chief of police during the violence. They are charged with organizing attacks on the people protesting the election results, which were widely viewed as rigged. The prosecution argues that the defendants from the governing party were determined to keep the party in power.

Three judges will now decide if the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence to begin a trial. They set the next hearings for September.

One of the judges has himself questioned the court’s jurisdiction. He has written that the issue is not whether crimes had occurred, but whether the International Criminal Court is the right forum for prosecution.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/09/world/africa/09hague.html?_r=1&ref=africa

Tag(s) : #International