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Rights Group Wants Local Tribunal for Kenya Violence Suspects

The organization Human Rights Watch has urged Kenya's government to establish a special tribunal to try those suspected of post-election violence. On a visit to Kenya, the group's director said resorting to the International Criminal Court would not be the best option.

More than a year after disputed presidential elections touched off political and ethnic violence that killed more than 1,200 people and displaced hundreds of thousands, Kenya has still not settled on a means of holding accountable those responsible for the attacks.

A commission established by the government recommended setting up a special tribunal in the country, with international members. But lawmakers have rejected the government's efforts to establish such a body.

Many of those opposed have called for cases to be forwarded to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, arguing that a local process would be vulnerable to political manipulation.

But a number of human rights groups in Kenya say going through the International Criminal Court would be a lengthy process that would not be completed in time for the country's next elections, scheduled for 2012, and the court may not ever take up the case.

On a visit to Kenya, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth echoed this position.

"Since our first priority is preventing more killing, we need something that can operate more quickly than the International Criminal Court traditionally has, and that again points in the direction of a special tribunal here in Kenya, which could be mobilized with proper political will much more quickly," Roth said.

Roth acknowledged the flaws in the original bill introduced by the government, but questioned the motives of some of those calling for the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

"Given those problems with the International Criminal Court as a court of first resort, I must say that those who are pushing it as the main option are really pushing a diversion," Roth said. "They are not pushing the institution that is most likely to break the culture of impunity. So thus what we saw was an odd alliance between those who wanted a better bill for legitimate reasons and those who really wanted no bill at all."

Roth noted that many of those pushing to send cases to the International Criminal Court are the same people who are under the greatest suspicion of involvement in the violence. He urged the Kenyan government to revise the legislation for a local tribunal, guaranteeing the court's independence from political interference, before reintroducing it.

Kenya's judicial system has been in the spotlight in the past week, with the Justice Minister and legal organizations calling for the resignation of the country's chief justice and attorney general, as well as increased transparency in the appointment of judges. Justice Minister Martha Karua, considered a likely presidential candidate in the next elections, has been the loudest voice.

"A glance at appointments in the judiciary reveals favoritism, cronyism, and incompetence," Karua said. "The appointment of good judges, and I must admit there are some very good judges, in the judiciary has been incidental rather than systematic."

Kenya's judicial system has long been faulted for its slowness and its large backlog of cases, as well as for its failure to prosecute high-profile figures suspected of corruption.