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Africa

Evenson: 'First time arrest warrant has been issued in Kenya case'

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for a Kenyan journalist. He is charged with trying to bribe witnesses to withdraw their testimony against Deputy President William Ruto.

DW spoke to Elizabeth Evenson, Senior Counsel in the International Justice Program at the rights groups Human Rights Watch.

DW: How significant is the arrest warrant issued for the Kenyan journalist Walter Osapiri Barasa on suspicion of bribery and perverting the course of justice?

Elizabeth Evenson: This is the first time that an arrest warrant has been issued in the Kenyan case. Other defendants are appearing voluntarily before the court, it's also the first time that the court has issued an arrest warrant for someone on charges of obstructing justice before the court. It's very significant. There had been persistent reports of witness interference, allegations that the ICC prosecutor has made about tampering with witnesses, this should send a signal that those who would seek to interfere with the witnesses before the court, whether there are for the prosecution or for the defense, that they could be held to account and that they could be made to answer for interfering with the court's ability to get on with its work.

How is this likely to affect Ruto's trial?

This essentially opens a separate case. Of course, the individual named in the arrest warrant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. He is entitled to the entire range of fair trial rights. What it means though, is that a new case has been opened and this individual is now subject to arrest. It would be up to the Kenyan authorities to arrest him and once he has been arrested, to then surrender him to the ICC for the process against him to start. It will be a separate case to the one going on against Deputy President William Ruto and the journalist Joshua Arap Sang.

Do you see Kenya extraditing him to The Hague?

This is going to be a real test of the promises the Kenyan government has made to continue cooperating with the ICC. Even though there has been discussion in parliament about getting Kenya out of the ICC, Kenya still remains a state party to the Rome Statute. There have been no steps taken by the government itself to take Kenya out of the ICC and all its obligations remain in effect. If Mr. Barasa (the wanted suspect) is within Kenya that would mean executing this arrest warrant.

Let's turn to Ruto's trial at the ICC, how has the Westgate attack affected the court's proceedings?

The court did adjourn for a very limited amount of time, about a week and a half. All of the parties, the prosecution, the defense and also the lawyer representing the victims agreed that it would be appropriate to have an adjournment. This was to allow Deputy President Ruto to return to Kenya. That was extended by a couple of days, in order to allow the deputy president to attend a memorial service in Kenya. The trial is back on, as far as I am aware, testimonies continued today in private session. The judges have put in place protective measures for the first witness who is still testifying after her identity was leaked at the very beginning of the trial.

How is the court going to recover the time lost - or don't they think in such terms?

My sense is that they are thinking in such terms. I'm not sure if they have made any alterations to the schedule, but I did see that there was some discussion with the defense suggesting that the trial chamber extend the number of hours the case is heard per day, perhaps even having Saturday sessions, which would be exceptional but not entirely unheard of, in order to make up for this lost time. Certainly there is a sense of wanting to go forward with the case. One specific action that judges did take is that originally they was a recess on the trial scheduled for next week, they cancelled that recess, given that essentially they have just come off a recess.

You are a legal expert from Human Rights Watch who has been closely following this case. Are the human rights of the defendants being properly respected?

That is an absolutely important part for the ICC to do its job, for it to have a credible process, there has to be scrupulous respect for the fair trial rights of the defendants. I am not aware of any claims that the defendants have made so far, of course it's up to the judges to ensure respect for those fair trial rights. Another issue that can affect fair trial is the ability of the witnesses to come forward to testify without fear of reprisals. It is very significant that a different chamber of judges today has issued an arrest warrant for allegations of witness tampering.

Elizabeth Evenson is a senior counsel in the International Justice Program at the Human Rights Watch.

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