William Ruto, Kenya’s Vice President appeared before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the first time on September 10, 2013 for his trial. Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity in response to the ethnic cleansing that occurred shortly after the 2007 presidential election. During this cleansing, more than 1,000 people died and 600,000 people were homeless. Along with Ruto, two other Kenyans are being tried for the same crimes: a radio journalist named Joshua Arap Sang and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who during the 2007 election supported the opposing political party, former President Kibaki.
Ruto was the first of the three Kenyans to appear in court, and specifically faces charges of murder, persecution, and forcible transfer of people. He is also charged as being a co-conspirator with Sang for orchestrating the murder and deportation of political supporters of the rival political party in the Rift Valley region. He pleaded not guilty to all counts, and has assured his supporters that the case against him is fiction since the case is built upon a conspiracy of lies. Despite Ruto’s calm and almost cavalier attitude about the case, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened by explaining that Ruto’s actions resulted in cold-blooded, deliberate murder and the relocation of thousands of people, decimating Kenya as well as the world’s perception that Kenya was a peaceful country. Bensouda is expected to call forty witnesses to try her case. Consequently, this case is far from decided. It is estimated to last months, if not years.
Additionally, another type of trial is occurring during the prosecution of Ruto. Ruto’s case has brought forth questions of whether the ICC is as unbiased and credible as it used to be. The International Criminal Court is an independent court located in The Hague, Netherlands. It is intended to be a court of last resort and only tries people for the most serious crimes, which include crimes against humanity, and it does not target specific jurisdictions. Notwithstanding the ICC’s claims to unbiased, it had been claimed by African countries that the ICC focuses on African countries and avoiding war crimes in other hotspots.
The credibility and effectiveness of the ICC has also been called into question. The ICC has a low success rate in cases where it is trying public officials for crimes against humanity, and Kenyan support for this case has dramatically diminished. First, this case is unprecedented in that Ruto, and eventually Kenyatta are still acting public officials. Ruto will be the first serving politician to be tried in the ICC. Ruto was re-elected as Kenyatta’s Vice President in 2012, around the same time that the ICC announced that Ruto would face charges. This continued support for Ruto was evident by the number of Ruto supporters packing the gallery. This support has even gone so far as to the Kenya’s parliament that recently passed a vote to withdraw from the ICC, symbolizing the dissatisfaction that Kenya has with the ICC. The other cases where the ICC has had successful convictions only involved previously ousted, unpopular leaders. Consequently, the ICC is fighting the public opinion of Kenya in this case.
Although the public opinion of the case and the ICC does not have any influence on the actual trial or the evidence presented, the ICC will have an uphill battle in the coming months to convict Ruto of the alleged crimes against humanity given the unpopularity of the case. Additionally, this case must also prove the unbiased nature and the competence of the ICC to the Kenyan country, the African continent, and the world. In short, not only must the prosecutor prove her case, but the ICC must indicate through this trial that the ICC can effectively try an alleged and acting politician solely for his crimes against humanity to bring to justice the deaths of Kenyans, demonstrate that political leaders are not above justice, and to bring sustainable peace back to Kenya.
Katelin Knox is a 3LE and Sutton Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.