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ICC Prosecutor Asks to Postpone Trial Against Kenyan President

Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, has asked for a three-month postponement in the trial for the case against the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta. The trial, already postponed several times, was to have started on Feb. 5, 2014.

Kenyatta was accused of being an indirect co-perpetrator for crimes against humanity, including murder, deportation or forcible transfer, rape and persecution committed in post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008, in which approximately 1,200 people were killed.

Kenyatta, president of Kenya
Uhuru Kenyatta, president of Kenya, accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

“My decision is based solely on the specific facts of this case devoid of extraneous considerations,” Bensouda said in a statement released Dec. 19 by her office at the court, known as the ICC.

“As Prosecutor, I have consistently stated my actions and decisions are at all times strictly guided by the evidence in accordance with the Rome Statute legal framework. This recent decision is no different.”

The case, which Bensouda inherited from her predecessor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has been deeply problematic from the start. It attracted worldwide attention for prosecuting a sitting head of state and has suffered from a dearth of key, reliable witnesses as well as witnesses dropping out after being threatened or bribed.

Kenya voted on plans to withdraw its membership from the Rome Statute, the court’s governing treaty, and the African Union criticized the tribunal, the only permanent court in the world to try atrocity crimes, for its “misuse of indictments against African leaders,” even though most of the court’s investigations in Africa were based on requests from countries there.

More recently, Kenya and other African countries lobbied the United Nations Security Council to intervene to postpone the trial for a year, so that Kenyatta could ensure the stability of his country after the Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi. That strategy fell flat with the Council.

Bensouda said that in the last two months, a key prosecution witnesses in the case against Kenyatta indicated that he was not willing to testify. More recently, on Dec. 4, a key second witness confessed to giving false evidence regarding a critical event in the prosecution’s case, so his testimony is no longer valid. That leaves 28 other witnesses for the prosecution. In a video from the spokesman for the court, Fadi El Abdallah explains the adjournment, also noting that Kenyatta’s office has not complied with certain requests for information from the ICC prosecutor for the trail, including providing bank records from 2007-2008.

Bensouda, who started her nine-year term in June 2012, concluded that the case against Kenyatta “does not satisfy the high evidentiary standards required at trial” and she therefore needed more time gather additional evidence and to consider whether such evidence will “meet the evidentiary threshold required at trial.”

The case against William Ruto, Kenya’s deputy president, and  Joshua Arap Sang, a Kenyan radio announcer, which began on Sept. 10, 2013, continues. Both men are accused of crimes against humanity also allegedly committed in Kenya in the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

[This article was updated on Dec. 20, 2013.]

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Dulcie Leimbach is the founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, NHK’s English channel and Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and was a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

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