The Kenyan government was sent scrambling Thursday when former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan unexpectedly turned over the list of suspected perpetrators of post-election Kenyan violence to the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
Kenyan leaders appeared to be caught off guard by Mr. Annan's action. A government press briefing was at first immediately scheduled but then canceled as the Kenyan delegation responsible for negotiations with Mr. Annan and the International Criminal Court held separate emergency meetings with President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
The government then released a statement confirming that Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga had been formally informed of Mr. Annan's action and expressing Kenya's commitment to the terms recently agreed upon with the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
The list of suspects has been kept under the former United Nations secretary general's care while Kenya pursued the option of trying the suspects locally.
The delegation of Kenyan government ministers held urgent meetings last week with Mr. Annan and Mr. Ocampo after it became apparent Kenya would not meet its August deadline to form the local tribunal.
A statement from Mr. Annan asserts his action Thursday was in line with discussions held with the Kenyan delegation. But members of the Kenyan delegation had previously stated that it was agreed upon that Kenya had at least until September and possibly until July 2010 to attempt a local solution before the names would be handed over to the ICC.
Jennifer Shamallah, a high-profile lawyer who participated in the commission that formed the list, expressed confusion at the sequence of events.
"I am extremely surprised and amazed that Kofi Annan would have handed over the envelope now when he was on record for saying that he was going to hand over the envelope only if it had been established that the Kenya government was not able to set up a special tribunal to try the post-election [violence] perpetrators," she said.
Kamodho Waiganjo, a professor of law at Nairobi University, says that it remains unclear whether Thursday's action was designed as a symbolic gesture to put further pressure on Kenya's politicians or whether it represents the start of an actual formal intervention on the part of the ICC.
"The ICC is not directed by the U.N. or Kofi Annan for that matter. The ICC must itself now of its own volition make the determination as to whether it wants to prosecute and when and how it wants to do it. But the stakes have been raised quite significantly by this action," Waijango said.
According to Waiganjo, it will now be up to the ICC's discretion whether to release publicly the names of the suspects. Who among Kenya's leaders is named on the list has been a matter of intense national speculation since it was handed over to Mr. Annan in October 2008.
Observers suggest that arriving at full justice for the victims of the post-election violence will require action on both an international and local level. They say only an ICC investigation will have the political power to investigate as high up as the top heads of government. But only local courts, they say, can have the capacity to prosecute those low- and mid-level criminals directly responsible for the acts of violence.
The coalition government has been fighting with Parliament to set up the local tribunal, but the legislature has twice refused the administration's proposal.
Mr. Annan brokered the peaceful creation of the coalition government after presidential candidate Raila Odinga accused incumbent candidate Mwai Kibaki of rigging the vote.