But whether the victims will receive any significant measure of justice remains a question. Several witnesses have refused to testify, allegedly because of intimidation. The ICC has dropped charges against three others, citing insufficient evidence. And Kenya’s parliament voted last week to withdraw from the ICC, a move that the human rights group Amnesty International deemed “a disturbing attempt to deny justice” for the victims and “a dangerous precedent for the future of justice in Africa.”
Many Kenyans worry that the trials could isolate their country diplomatically and trigger political and tribal upheaval in one of the continent’s most vibrant economic hubs, vital to regional stability and counterterrorism efforts in East Africa. At stake is also the ICC’s credibility. It will try for the first time a sitting elected leader, marking the court’s biggest test to date. The trial starts amid growing defiance and animosity — not only in Kenya but also in other African countries — toward the ICC, which is accused of unfairly targeting Africans.
A long wait
Ruto, 46, and Kenyatta, 51, are charged with crimes against humanity. They are accused of funding and ordering ethnic mobs to hack rivals to death, torch homes and churches, and uproot civilians after Kenya’s disputed December 2007 elections. At least 1,100 people died and 650,000 were displaced, the worst episode of violence since the country’s independence in 1963. Both men have claimed innocence and have promised to cooperate with the ICC, which was created in 2002 to address genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes.
But since Kenya’s post-election violence ended in early 2008, justice has proved elusive for the victims. In 2009, the country’s parliament voted against the creation of a tribunal to address the violence, and further legislative efforts have failed, prompting the ICC prosecutor to launch investigations in 2010. The following year, Kenya’s government challenged the ICC’s jurisdiction over the cases. Even after Kenyatta, Ruto and two others were implicated by the ICC in January 2012, the sense of defiance persisted.
In March, the court dropped charges against one of the alleged perpetrators. The prosecutor’s office cited insufficient evidence because of the loss of a key witness, who is suspected to have received bribes to recant his testimony; the deaths of several other witnesses; and a lack of cooperation by the Kenyan government in gathering testimony.
Kenyatta and Ruto, once rivals, teamed up to win this year’s presidential election, in part by portraying their ICC indictments as meddling by the West. In the run-up to the vote, Western nations, including the United States, publicly warned Kenyans that there would be diplomatic and political fallout if they elected Kenyatta and Ruto, but that had little effect on the voters.