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ICC Withdrawal a Blow to Kenya

FILE - Combination picture shows Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta, who was finance minister, and William Ruto, former Higher Education Minister at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, April 2011.
Kenya's parliament voted last week to withdraw from the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The move comes as Deputy President William Ruto goes on trial at the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity. Human rights organizations say Kenya's withdrawal would be a setback to the reforms the country has achieved in terms of fighting political impunity.

Kenyan lawmakers last week voted to pull out of the ICC, where the country’s president and deputy are facing trials for crimes against humanity.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy Ruto are accused of helping to organize the post-election violence five years ago, in which more than 1,100 people were killed and 600,000 displaced. Both men deny the charges.

Now days after the landmark withdrawal vote in parliament, some Kenyans say they fear the move has tarnished their country’s image

Kenyan political writer and commentator Barrack Muluka told VOA the withdrawal is a big blow to Kenya, not the ICC.

“People in the international community put up the ICC because of something called impunity. And in this impunity it obtains in a individual nation-state and when a certain nation-state decides that it wants to become a rogue state. We cannot say the ICC has suffered a blow, it’s the people of those particular countries that suffer," said Muluka.

There are still procedural steps for Kenya to take before it can officially withdraw from its ICC obligations - including formal notification to the United Nations. The process could take about a year.

Meanwhile, the ICC says whether Kenya withdraws from the Rome Statute or not, the cases against the president, his deputy and radio host Joshua Sang will continue.

Tiseke Kasambala works with Human Rights Watch. She says Kenyan politicians have sent a very wrong message to their constituents by taking action to withdraw from the ICC.

“This proposed withdrawal from ICC sends the message to Kenyans that what happens to them does not matter. But those who violently torture, and kill them or displace them from their homes would not be brought to account and the Kenyan government doesn’t actually care about them," said Kasambala.

Initially, President Kenyatta and Ruto pledged to cooperate with the process and defend themselves at The Hague. But that is being increasingly thrown into question.

Human Rights Watch says a pattern of obstruction has developed every time the ICC tries to speed up its proceedings.

On Sunday, Kenyatta warned he and Ruto will not appear unless the ICC changes its scheduled hearings in November and December - as they conflict with Kenya’s celebrations of 50 years of independence.

He also argued he and his deputy are constitutionally prohibited from being out of the country at the same time.

HRW’s Kasambala says Kenya’s obligations to the ICC are still in effect and must be adhered to.

“The ICC is operating separately. Kenya is still a member state and it’s still obliged to follow the ICC obligation on it. So whether this is or not in the Kenyan constitution we are talking about, the fact that Kenya is an ICC member state and therefore has to follow the rules and regulation of the International Criminal Court," said Kasambala.

This is not Kenyan lawmakers’ first attempt to thwart the ICC. The previous parliament also voted to withdraw from the ICC in 2012. Then-President Mwai Kibaki refused to act on the motion.