NAIROBI — The International Criminal Court has reversed a decision allowing Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto to be absent for parts of his trial. The decision, announced Friday, is a major setback for Kenya’s leaders, who are seeking ways to avoid attending trial.
Appeals court judges ruled unanimously that the court was wrong in granting Ruto conditional permission to skip portions of his trial.
He and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta are charged in separate but similar cases for allegedly orchestrating the inter-ethnic violence that followed the presidential election of 2007, in which more than 1,100 people were killed.
Reading a summary of the ruling, Judge Song Sang-hyun said any decisions to excuse Ruto from parts of his trial should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“The absence of the accused can only take place in exceptional circumstances and must not become the rule," Sang said.
In June, trial chamber judges ruled that Ruto would not have to appear continuously at The Hague, but that he would have to be present for opening and closing statements, judgments and when victims testify.
Kenyatta, who is due to attend the opening of his trial in November, was granted the same reprieve last week.
Apollo Mboya, head of the Law Society of Kenya, expects a similar ruling against Kenyatta, should the prosecutor appeal his exemption.
“It’s most likely that they are going to give a similar ruling since the ICC is very clear that the suspects before it are not there in their official capacity, but as individuals," Mboya said. "So it is fair and reasonable to predict that is going to be the same ruling that they are going to give in the Kenyatta case.”
The Kenyatta administration, backed by the African Union, has been lobbying the United Nations Security Council to push for a deferral of the two cases.
In identical letters sent to the Council earlier this month, Kenya and the AU cited security concerns in Kenya following the terrorist siege on Nairobi’s Westgate mall as reason for a deferral.
The letters argue that the proceedings against Kenya’s two leaders will prevent them from fulfilling their duties, including “oversight for national and regional security affairs.”