The search for justice in Kenya’s post-election violence, which killed some 1,200 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others in early 2008, appears to have taken a big step forward.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Tuesday issued a summons to six senior Kenyans believed to be the most responsible for the violence. The six Kenyans, who are required to appear at the ICC on April 7 for a preliminary hearing, are public officials and media members named by ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo after a year-long investigation.
“The ICC’s decision means that six people implicated in Kenya’s post-election violence will have to answer to the court,” says Elizabeth Evenson, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The ICC summonses – which name some of Kenya’s most senior leaders – should serve as a wake-up call to Kenyan politicians and officials that they can be held to account.”
Thus far, former Education Minister William Ruto, former Police Commissioner Hussein Ali, top civil servant Francis Muthaura, and radio journalist Joshua Arap Sang have said they will appear before the ICC. Mr. Sang indicated he would challenge the ICC’s authority to hear charges against him.
"These judges are behaving like political activists as opposed to judicial officers," Capital FM radio quoted Mr. Sang’s lawyer, Kimutai Bosek, as saying. "We are not disobeying the court summons but we will challenge it before the appellate arm. My client is innocent and will challenge the prosecutor's allegations."
He is hardly alone in challenging the ICC.
Kenya’s parliament has fought hard to prevent the ICC process, urging President Mwai Kibaki to rescind the Rome Statute treaty that binds Kenya to support the world court. As part of a power-sharing agreement that created the current government, co-led by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Kenya was required to either investigate and try the suspects behind the post-election violence, or to allow the ICC to do it. By doing nothing, the Kenyan parliament gave the responsibility to the ICC, and now is feverishly arguing that it can, after all, handle the cases itself.
For Kenyans, the post-election violence of December 2007 through February 2008 was a sign that ethnic politics had gone too far. The country’s top two parties fought a very close electoral race that was deeply flawed with vote rigging charges. Violence broke out when the country’s electoral commission (handpicked by Kibaki) chose Kibaki as the winner. Kenyans from Kibaki’s ethnic group, the Kikuyus, were beaten, harassed, and in some cases murdered.
Later, members of Mr. Odinga’s Luo ethnic group, and Mr. Ruto’s Kalenjin group, were murdered in Kikuyu majority towns like Naivasha. The crisis ended in late February 2008 after a month of mediation led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and his team of politically powerful African elders. (See four-part series "How Peace Came to Kenya.")
Even today, three years later, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans remain displaced from their homes, still too terrified to return.
While Kenya’s politicians see the ICC process as a threat to Kenya’s sovereignty, and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka has traveled the region persuading leaders that Kenya has a right to reject the ICC, most opinion polls show that Kenyan citizens themselves overwhelmingly support the ICC process.
According to a poll conducted by the Synovote polling agency in September 2010, 54 percent of Kenyans surveyed said they preferred to have accused Kenyans sent to The Hague in the post-election violence cases. The ICC is so popular that Mr. Ocampo’s face can be seen plastered on many of Nairobi’s minibus taxis, alongside rap stars Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg.