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As Ruto Trial Resumes, Kenya Debates ICC Future

  • Gabe Joselow

Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto is back at his trial at the International Criminal Court after returning to Kenya following the Westgate mall attack. Kenyans remain divided on whether the court is acting in the interest of the country, as lawmakers move to withdraw the country from the court’s jurisdiction.

Nairobi’s so-called "people’s parliament" meets every day in the city’s parks to discuss matters of national interest.

High on the agenda is the resumption of the ICC case against Deputy President William Ruto, for his alleged role in the violence that followed the 2007 election.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is due at the ICC in November to face similar charges.

Members of this informal group have mixed opinions about the role of the court.

Salim Muganga is among those who think the ICC is a useful institution for finding reconciliation.

“ICC is about truth and justice. Simple and clear. We are here to stay in ICC because we have to know more about truth and justice, what happened in 2008,” he said.

Or has the court outlived its purpose? That’s what Wilberforce Onyango believes.

“The reason we had to go to ICC at that time was because our judicial system was not competent enough. But now that we have a constitution with a clear provision creating a supreme court with a mandate similar to that of the ICC -- the need for Kenya to continue being a member has already been overtaken,” said Onyango.

The case against Ruto was briefly suspended to allow him to deal the terrorist attack on a Nairobi shopping mall.

The crisis highlighted concerns about the president and the deputy’s ability to effectively govern while having to appear regularly at The Hague.

While they have pledged to cooperate, their administration has been pushing for the court to drop the case against them, or to refer it back to Kenya.

Attorney General Githu Muigai said even if lawmakers vote to withdraw Kenya from the ICC, it will not affect the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto.

“So it has nothing, I assume, to do with the present cases at all. In those cases, the persons involved have declared openly, several times, that they will continue to work with the court until the cases are resolved,” he explained.

In a new twist, the ICC prosecutor unsealed an arrest warrant this week for former Kenyan journalist Walter Barasa, accused of bribing witnesses in the Ruto case.

Professor Edward Kisiang’ani at Kenyatta University in Kenya said the new charges could be damaging to Ruto’s defense.

“If it is, for example, discovered that Barasa was doing something with the knowledge of the deputy president or people close to the deputy president, then you know, a new case could be opened,” he said.

The country is still waiting to see whether Kenyan judges will act on the arrest warrant for Barasa.

That decision will be a key test of the country’s willingness to continue to cooperate with the ICC.