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ICC Charges Force Kenyan Ministers to Step Aside

Uhuru Kenyatta (R) and a member of the Defense Council attend a hearing at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, September 21, 2011.

Uhuru Kenyatta (R) and a member of the Defense Council attend a hearing at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, September 21, 2011.

Kenya’s finance minister and head of civil service have resigned their positions following the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to proceed with their cases. The two are among four suspects who must stand trial for crimes against humanity in connection with the country’s post-election violence several years ago. The two suspects have come under increasing pressure to step aside.

Uhuru Kenyatta stepped down as finance minister Thursday, though he retains his other post as deputy prime minister. The new acting finance minister is Robinson Githae, the Minister for Nairobi Metropolitan Development.

Similarly, Francis Muthaura has stepped aside as head of the public service, to be replaced by Francis Kimemia, a permanent secretary in the Ministry of State for Provincial Administration and Internal Security.

In recent days, Kenyatta and Muthaura have been under increasing pressure from civil society groups and others to step down from the government offices they hold.

One of those groups was the Law Society of Kenya.

“Under Chapter Six of the Constitution, a holder of public office holds it in trust for Kenyans and must conduct himself in a manner that gives dignity to Kenya and to the office," said Chairman Kenneth Akide. "The crimes they are charged with are probably the most heinous, serious crimes known to any legal system and to the law. I think they rank to the same level as terrorism.”

The Hague-based International Criminal Court, or ICC, Monday ruled that the crimes against humanity cases of Kenyatta and Muthaura, along with former agriculture and higher education minister William Ruto and radio presenter Joshua Sang, will proceed.

Kenyatta’s and Muthaura’s crimes are allegedly murder, rape, deportation or forcible transfer of a population, persecution and inhumane acts.

Both men said they would appeal the ICC’s ruling. Kenyatta and Ruto are presidential candidates in Kenya’s elections, to be held before March of next year.

The Law Society of Kenya’s Akide says he is delighted by the latest developments. “What has happened today is great for this nation and sets the example for this nation to retain its rightful place among respected nations of the world,” he said.

Also Thursday was the scheduled hearing of a court case in which a group of voters are trying to stop Kenyatta and Ruto from running for president, citing sections of the constitution dealing with integrity.

In late 2007 and early 2008, the country erupted in ethnic violence following the bitterly-disputed 2007 presidential poll. More than 300,000 people were displaced in the violence, and some 1,300 others killed.

With the help of mediator and former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, presidential rivals Mwai Kibaki and Ralia Odinga forged a power-sharing government that has held together despite recurring tensions. Odinga has also declared that he will run for president in the upcoming elections.