Kenya’s vice president William Ruto and his co-accused Joshua arap Sang stood before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The pair are there to convince the judges to drop the case against them.
Almost all Kenyan dailies carried the picture of Deputy President Ruto on the front page. The hearing on his case at the ICC began on Tuesday (12.01.2016). Ruto and Sang have both been accused of crimes against humanity, which include murder, deportation or forcible transfer of the population and persecution. The alleged crimes are said to have been committed during and around the 2007-2008 post-election violence. Should the pair receive a favorable ruling, then the case will be dismissed.
Ruto's legal team, which is headed by London lawyer Karim Khan argues that there is not enough evidence to continue the case. Since the start of the trial, six prosecution witnesses either withdrew their testimonies or failed to appear to court. Whether the case will continue, therefore depends on the quantity evidence, not it's credibility or reliability, the prosecution ensured the three judges. When asked by presiding judge Chile Eboe-Osuji whether the evidence was enough for a conviction, prosecution lawyer Anton Steynberg said: "Your honor, my submission is: yes, it is."
First public hearing
Despite objections form the prosecution, the judges allowed witness statements to be read in public. Steynberg, cited examples of fighters being transported to Kenya's Rift Valley, where a bulk of the fighting took place. He also quoted testimonies from people who said they had witnessed discussions of the elders who had coordinated the violence. Some of these meetings, witnesses said, took place in Ruto's rural home.
Steynberg also cited satellite evidence, which showed fire outbreaks around the Rift Valley town of Eldoret. "Given the violence that was taking place at the time, it is unlikely that farmers had chosen at that moment to burn shrub," he told the judges.
After the elections in December 2007, opposition members led by Raila Odinga accused President Kibaki and the ruling party of rigging the elections. What followed were months of inter-ethnic violence, that left over 1,300 people dead and over 600,000 displaced.
On the streets of Nairobi, reactions to the case against Ruto and Sang are divided. "That case is political," Nairobi resident Musau Musyoka told DW. "We have to accept the ruling … we need this country more than an individual and justice will have been done." David Omondi, another Nairobi resident agreed: "Now that we are approaching the next general election I am sure that there is going to be another violence if nothing happens to those who perpetrated the 2007 violence."
Elizabeth Evenso, a legal expert with Human Rights Watch in Brussels explained why she believed the case was significant. "At the moment this case against the deputy president and his co-defendant Joshua Sang is really the only case that is proceeding in court to try to get to the bottom of what happened."
Kenyan political analyst Brian Singoro Wanyama from Kibabii University in western Kenya told DW, the ICC case would play a critical role in the country's next election in 2017. Ruto, he said had brought together the people of Rift Valley for purposes of political survival. "He might be a very influential person in deciding who becomes his replacement in Rift Valley and who becomes the running-mate to President Kenyatta," Wanyama said.
Initially, Kenyatta had also faced charges at the ICC before they were dropped in December 2014. ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda dropped the charges against him for lack of evidence and co-operation from the Kenyan government. With Ruto as his running-mate, Kenyatta had won the elections in 2013. In the past few years, Kenya has repeatedly accused the ICC of targeting African countries and has threatened to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the international treaty that had established the court.
The court has only handed down two convictions in the last 13 years.
Andrew Wasike contributed to this report.