September 10, 2013 (THE HAGUE) – The trial of Kenyan vice-president William Ruto who is charged with crimes against humanity gets underway on Tuesday at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.
A statement issued by the ICC on Monday said Ruto will appear before a panel of three judges.
Ruto and president Uhuru Kenyatta, who won a March election, are charged with crimes against humanity, including murder, forcible population transfer, and persecution, during post-election violence in Kenya in 2007.
The pair are accused of inciting ethnic violence that followed the disputed poll, when they were in rival political camps.
Both men deny the charges.
Ruto is jointly charged with journalist Joshua Arap Sang, who also denies any wrongdoing.
President Uhuru’s trial is due to get underway in November.
Then Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki, was declared the winner of the disputed 2007 elections, but his main challenger, Raila Odinga, claimed the poll had been rigged.
The violence that followed the electoral dispute led to the death of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of some 600,000.
About 40,000 people displaced are still living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps six years later.
On Saturday, president Kenyatta announced that the camps will be closed by 20 September.
Human rights groups have welcomed Ruto’s trial, saying it’s an opportunity for victims of the 2007 violence to see those responsible brought to justice.
“For decades those who have turned Kenya’s elections into bloodbaths have gotten away with murder. This ICC trial tackles an impunity crisis in the country and offers a chance for justice denied to Kenyans by their own government”, Daniel Bekele, Africa director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement on Monday.
Bekele criticised last week’s vote by the Kenyan parliament to pull out of the ICC.
Although the decision will take up to a year to implement and would not affect the current trials in progress, the move has raised questions about Kenya’s commitment to the process.
“Every time the ICC process inches forward, the country’s political establishment scrambles furiously to block the way”, Bekele said. “A motion by parliament calling for Kenya to withdraw from the ICC can’t stop these cases or provide an excuse for Ruto not to attend the trial”, he added.
Amnesty International (AI) has also called on Kenya to fully cooperate with the ICC.
“The start of the ICC trial is an important opportunity to end impunity for the serious crimes committed in 2007/2008. Kenya must cooperate fully with the ICC and support its work to ensure a fair and effective process for the defendants, victims and witnesses, and for the Kenyan people”, said Netsanet Belay, AI’s Africa programme director.
Amnesty called on the ICC to protect witnesses, also urging Kenyan authorities to cooperate with the court’s protection efforts.
In recent months, several witnesses for the prosecution recanted their testimonies, citing threats to their life and intimidation.
Belay has slammed the government’s recent efforts to politicise the ICC trials as “deplorable”, saying it should not be allowed to affect the proceedings of the trial.
“The authorities should focus their energy on ensuring justice, truth and reparation for the victims of many other crimes that the ICC is not able to deal with”, he said.
Kenya, a recipient of generous foreign aid, has also faced pressure from the international community to fully cooperate with the ICC
The ICC was established in 2002 to try those accused of heinous crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.
The court has come under criticism by African countries for its alleged targeting of African leaders, but the ICC denies accusations of bias.