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ICC Prosecutor Arrives in Kenya to Investigate Election Violence

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said that his team would build their case independently in order to present impartial evidence to judges at The Hague.

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has arrived in Kenya to begin his investigation into crimes against humanity committed in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo landed in the Kenyan capital Saturday morning for a much anticipated 5 day visit, during which he will gather evidence against suspected sponsors of the ethnic violence which gripped the East African nation in early 2008.

An estimated 1,000 people were killed and more than 300,000 displaced when supporters of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga clashed in reaction to accusations of vote rigging by both parties during the December 2007 presidential election.

Limited mandate

In a press conference this morning, Moreno-Ocampo emphasized that his investigation would not cover the disputed election, explaining that his mandate was limited to crimes against humanity. He did, however, urge the Kenyan government to launch its own investigation into the poll, which he said would help ensure the credibility of the election in 2012.

There has been wide speculation about who might be targeted by the investigations. An international commission established in 2008 to examine the causes of the post election crisis presented a sealed list to Moreno-Ocampo containing 20 prominent Kenyan businessmen and politicians which it believed had sponsored the violence.

The Prosecutor has invited Kenyans who believe they are on the list to clear their names, but stressed that the list would not influence his own probe.

Moreno-Ocampo said that his team would build their case independently in order to present impartial evidence to judges at The Hague.

"Crimes happened here. People were killed, there was rape, houses were burned; that happened," said the ICC prosecutor. "There are some allegations someone was involved. For me, I have to start from scratch. I have to collect evidence defining who was criminally responsible. This is not about political parties, this is not about political responsibilities, this is about criminal responsibilities. That's my job."

Witness protection

During the press conference, the issue of witness protection was repeatedly raised. After the prosecutor announced his intention to pursue those responsible for the violence, witnesses around the country have been repeatedly harassed and intimidated both verbally and physically. Many have received death threats and a few have even gone into hiding.

Moreno-Ocampo estimated that he would select 30 witnesses for his case and affirmed the responsibility of the ICC to protect them. But the prosecutor said that he could only protect those witnesses which he selected and the responsibility fell to the Kenyan government to ensure the safety of the rest.

"We talk about this with the local authorities because it is their job," he said. "They have responsibility to ensure security for the citizens in Kenya, so they have to protect these people. But I cannot replace the Kenyan government. I will not pretend that I would replace the Kenyan government."

The prosecutor is expected to gather preliminary evidence in and around Nairobi over the next five days. The team of investigators will interview victims of the violence and speak with civil and religious leaders.

Moreno-Ocampo elected to pursue the perpetrators in 2009 in light of Kenya's apparent failure to administer justice. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 to investigate the violence, but allegations of ethical violations leveled at the chairman, Bethuel Kiplagat, have marred its credibility and effectively halted its work.

Moreno-Ocampo has indicated that his investigation will take around seven months after which he will issue warrants for suspects to be tried in The Hague. The Kenyan government has promised its full support.