Kenya’s parliament yesterday voted to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
But the Dutch-based tribunal said it would nevertheless press ahead with the trials of the east African country’s president and his deputy.
Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are accused of orchestrating violence following the 2007 elections. About 1200 people were killed in ethnic blood-letting that plunged the region’s biggest economy into crisis.
The court’s first trial of a sitting president is viewed as the biggest test to date of an institution that has faced mounting criticism in Kenya and across Africa, where it is accused of bias because all the suspects to date have been Africans.
Support for the process, which once had broad backing in Kenya, has been eroded since the peaceful vote in March that resulted in Kenyatta, son of the country’s founding leader, being elected president.
Parliament, dominated by the alliance that brought Kenyatta to power, voted in favour of telling the government to withdraw from the court.
“I am setting the stage to redeem the image of the Republic of Kenya,” Aden Duale, the majority leader of Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition, said on behalf of the motion.
Opposing him, minority leader Francis Nyenze warned: “We’ll be seen as a pariah state. We’ll be seen as people who are reactionary and who want to have their way.”
The court said earlier that, even if Kenya withdrew, its departure from the first permanent international criminal court would take at least a year and would have no effect on cases already being processed.
Ruto’s trial starts on Tuesday and Kenyatta’s in November, despite Kenyan efforts to have the cases dropped or heard nearer home. Both men have attended pre-trial hearings and have said they will continue to cooperate.
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda yesterday said both cases would go ahead.
Bensouda said there had been repeated threats and bribes aimed at persuading relatives of witnesses to disclose the witnesses’ whereabouts.
“Witnesses have gone to great lengths to risk their lives and the lives of their relatives to support our investigations and prosecutions,” the prosecutor said.