Nairobi(ANN) — Four prominent Kenyans, two of them presidential candidates, were ordered Monday to stand trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with the bloodshed and waves of violence following the disputedelections in 2007 that pushed the country near to civil war.
More than 1,100 people are believed to have been killed in organized attacksand more than 300,000 were driven from their homes or fled in the violence.
The court’s order reaches deep inside the political elite of a country where the wealthy and powerful have long counted on being untouchable. One defendant is Uhuru Kenyatta, the richest man in Kenyaand the son of Jomo Kenyatta, the nation’s founding president. He is the deputy prime minister and finance minister, and a leader of the Kikuyu, the country’s dominant ethnic group.
Also accused is his political rival, William Ruto, a former education minister who has a large following in his Kalenjin ethnic group. Both earlier said they would run in the coming election, regardless of any ruling by the court.
The other two suspects are Francis Muthaura, the cabinet secretary, and Joshua arap Sang, an influential radio executive.
No dates for the trials were set, but the men were summoned to appear for pretrial hearings in September. The court’s order is expected to have an immediate impact on Kenyan politics. At the very least, it will cast a long shadow and complicate the presidential race. Presidential and parliamentary elections are expected late this year or early 2013.
Kenyan law does not ban someone facing trial from running for office, according to the chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, Kenneth Akide. But the accused would have to undergo the repeated humiliation of traveling to The Hague to answer summonses, appearing in the dock, hearing grave charges and enduring the televised broadcasts of the proceedings.
Politicians from the camps of Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto have denounced the court as biased, and almost all the accused say they will appeal. “This is to confirm I am firmly in the race,” Mr. Ruto told reporters in Nairobi on Monday. “Let us meet at the ballot.”
The presiding judge at the tribunal, Ekaterina Trendafilova of Bulgaria, emphasized that the pretrial panel of judges were “not passing judgment on the guilt or the innocence” of the accused, and that they would remain free until trial, unless they engaged “in incitement of violence or hate speech.”
Charges against two other Kenyans, Henry Kosgey, a former cabinet minister, and Mohammed Hussein Ali, the former police chief, were dropped for lack of evidence, although prosecutors are expected to provide more.
The prosecution charges that during the violence of 2007-2008, the attacks and killings were organized by Kalenjin groups against the Kikuyu in the Rift Valley, while in other parts of Kenya the brutality was the other way around.
Prosecutors opened two cases, one for each ethnic group and its main political party. By making a single announcement on Monday about the two, the court appeared to take into account the possible impact of its decisions on the country’s volatile politics. “It is our utmost desire that the decisions issued by this chamber today bring peace to the people of Kenya and prevent any sort of hostility,” Ms. Trendafilova said.
Kenyan officials have fought against any involvement of the international court from the start, insisting it would deal with the organizers of the violence in local trials. A year ago, lawmakers went so far as to demand that Kenya withdraw from the Rome Treaty of 1998 that established the court. Other African leaders have also supported Kenya in its bid to get international court action deferred. Last year the government made new announcements that it would set up a supreme court and revamp its weak judicial system.
But the court prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, countered that Kenya had failed to conduct any credible investigations into who organized the violence. On the contrary, he said, the government had orchestrated a campaign to halt any serious inquiry of the killings, rapes, and persecution of unarmed civilians.