Kenya’s parliament has voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The action comes before the court opens trials of the Kenyan president and deputy president on charges of crimes against humanity. If Kenya does leave the ICC, it would be the first court member to do so - and it could have far-reaching consequences.
The parliamentary motion calling for Kenya to withdraw from the International Criminal Court passed easily after opposition MPs walked out.
The decision comes just before the country's president and deputy president face trial at the ICC in The Hague.
Majority Leader of the Kenyan Assembly Aden Duale put forward the motion to withdraw from the court.
"Mr. Speaker, I think as a country we have today made a statement based on our sovereignty as a nation," said Duale.
Deputy President William Ruto and journalist Joshua Arap Sang are due to go on trial Tuesday. The trial of President Uhuru Kenyatta is scheduled for November.
They are accused of orchestrating post-election violence in 2007, in which more than a thousand people were killed. All three say the charges are politically motivated.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said the prosecutions do not violate Kenya’s sovereignty.
“Every state that is part of the ICC, including Kenya, freely exercised its sovereign right to join. And the people of Kenya freely exercise their democratic right during the presidential elections. The ICC process is judicial and it should not be politicized,” said El Abdallah.
William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta were opponents in 2007, but formed an alliance for this year's elections in March. Their campaign portrayed the ICC as interfering in Kenya’s domestic affairs.
Chief Prosecutor of the ICC Fatou Bensouda rejected that accusation.
“Kenya’s parliament did not manage to pass the legislation required to establish a special tribunal. Since then, the government of Kenya has not demonstrated to the judges of the ICC that it is actually investigating or prosecuting the three accused,” said Bensouda.
Kenya’s withdrawal could have broad consequences, says Phil Clark, an analyst on the ICC’s work in Africa at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
“It would mean that Kenya would stop cooperating in terms of the ICC’s investigations on the ground, in terms of protecting witnesses, and the practical elements of the case. And I guess on a wider frame, there’s a high chance that other African states will see this as a green light for them to do likewise,” says Clark.
The African Union has accused the ICC of ‘hunting’ Africans because of their race - a charge the court strongly denies. But it’s a view that is gaining strength in Africa, says Phil Clark.
“You have very powerful actors, including the U.S. and other members of the Security Council, who are willing to use the ICC around the world when it suits them to intervene in cases where Western powers have interests, but not to sign up to the court themselves,” says Clark.
Kenya’s full withdrawal from the ICC would take up to a year - and still requires the government, not parliament, to formally notify the United Nations secretary-general.