“It’s a very unhappy development for the future of the International Criminal Court,” said William Schabas, a professor of international law at Middlesex University in London. “It has never happened before. I think it’s a symptom of a larger malaise within Africa regarding the court. Like any malaise, the concern is that it is going to spread and turn into a more serious disease.”
If Kenya were to formally withdraw from the ICC, the concern is that other African nations could follow, damaging the court’s credibility and its authority to prosecute war criminals. Thirty-four African countries have joined the ICC, the largest regional grouping among the court’s 122 members.
But ICC officials and human rights activists say that claims that the court is unfairly targeting African leaders are misplaced. They note that the governments of many African countries, including Mali, the Ivory Coast and Uganda, have sought the ICC’s help to investigate and prosecute crimes committed inside their borders. The court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is from Gambia.
In Kenya, many are concerned that the trials could resurrect old animosities among the nation’s tribes and communities. In a statement posted Monday on its Web site, the chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, Eric Mutua, warned that “heavy political statements and debates on the ICC process may tear the country apart.” He urged “leaders and the public to exercise caution as justice takes its course.”
If Kenyatta and Ruto are convicted, they could face years behind bars. If they refuse to cooperate, they could become international pariahs like Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, also indicted by the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity. Whatever happens could unfold slowly. The ICC has convicted only one person, Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese rebel leader. That took six years.
Loyalists for Kenyatta and Ruto are predicting that they will be acquitted. A recent cartoon in the country’s Standard newspaper depicted a concerned ICC prosecutor clutching a bucket labeled “witnesses.” It is peppered with holes, leaking water.