The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has requested judges delay the war crimes trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, citing inadequate evidence against the former leader.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on Thursday that one of the prosecution's key witnesses was no longer prepared to testify against Kenyatta. A second, she added, admitted to providing a false statement "regarding a critical event in the case" and had been removed from the prosecution's witness list.
"Having carefully considered my evidence and the impact of the two withdrawals, I have come to the conclusion that currently the case against Mr Kenyatta does not satisfy the high evidentiary standards required at trial," Bensouda said.
Bensouda added she would continue attempting to gather evidence in the case against Kenyatta and would then decide if the new evidence was strong enough to warrant a trial.
Human rights groups have warned in the past that witnesses in the Kenyatta case were being intimidated. Human Rights Watch lawyer Liz Evenson called Bensouda's remarks "deeply disturbing."
The decision to delay the court trial "comes in the context of an unprecedented climate of witness interference that the government has failed to check," Everson said on Thursday.
"We hope the prosecutor will use every appropriate means to continue her investigation" and see if she can proceed, she added.
Court decision awaited
Judges at The Hague based court must now decide whether to grant the adjournment, or dismiss the case entirely.
Kenyatta's lawyers have previously petitioned the court to dismiss the case, citing evidence against their client to be tainted by false statements.
The announcement is a setback for the ICC, which has had a number of high-profile cases collapse recently.
However, international commentators say the stay of proceedings could help ease tensions between Kenya and its African Union allies, who have long sought for the charges to be dropped.
Kenyan prosecutor doubts case
Kenya's Attorney General Githu Muigai said Thursday's announcement supported his belief there was no case for Kenyatta to answer.
"There was never any evidence to refer the matter…in the first place and there was no evidence to confirm the charges in the second place and there was no evidence to commence trial in the third place," he told the Reuters news agency.
"I stand by that position I have held consistently."
New evidence sought
Kenyatta stands accused to inciting ethnic violence following Kenya's 2007 elections, as well as arranging riots in which more than 1,200 people were killed. Deputy leader and former political rival, William Ruto, faced similar charges before a trial in The Hague earlier this year.
Following his election in March, Kenyatta has worked feverishly to have the criminal charges against him dropped or deferral of the trial.
The trial against Kenyatta had been expected to begin on February 5, 2014. Kenyatta has pleaded not guilty to the crimes against humanity charges which include murder, rape, forcible population transfer and persecution.
Bensouda said "many challenges" had faced investigators working in Kenya. In the past, she accused prosecution witnesses of being intimidated or bribed into withdrawing their statements against Kenyatta.
jlw/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)