Kenya’s parliament passed a motion Thursday to withdraw from the International Criminal Court just before the country’s president and deputy president face trial at The Hague for allegedly orchestrating post-election violence more than five years ago.

Noting that the United States and other world powers are not members of the International Criminal Court, the majority leader of Kenya’s parliament said Thursday that the country should withdraw from the statute that created the ICC.

Adan Duale told a special session of lawmakers that presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had argued against the United States becoming a party to the Rome Statute, which regulates prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ICC.

The motion easily passed on a voice vote after members of the opposition party walked out, but Kenya can withdraw from the ICC only if the government, not parliament, offers a formal notification to the U.N. secretary general.

Clinton and Bush, Duale said, refused to join the ICC in order to protect U.S. citizens and troops from potential politically motivated prosecutions.

“Let us protect our citizens. Let us defend the sovereignty of the nation of Kenya,” Duale said.

The Kenyan debate is a reaction to the start next week of the ICC trial of Deputy President William Ruto. Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta face charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly helping to orchestrate post-
election violence in 2007-08 that killed more than 1,000 people.

Kenyatta, who was elected president this year, faces trial in November. Both leaders have said they will cooperate with the court.

Parliament has voted before to withdraw from the ICC, but the executive branch took no action. The Rome Statute says a “state party” may pull out with written notification to the U.N. secretary general; withdrawal takes effect a year later.

A withdrawal does not affect a state’s obligation to cooperate with criminal investigations and proceedings already underway. If Kenya were to pull out, it would be the first nation to do so.

“Kenya gains no legal advantage by withdrawing from the ICC,” said William Pace, an official with the Coalition for the ICC. “In the long run, the promoters of this action are hurting the reputation of Kenya as a nation that supports international human rights and the rule of law.”

Kenyatta’s and Ruto’s indictments led the United States and Britain, among others, to openly advocate for the two leaders’ electoral defeat. However, Kenya’s ties with those countries have appeared to be at least quasi-normal since the two men were elected in March, although President Obama did not visit Kenya, his father’s home country, when he toured Africa in June and July.

— Associated Press