Kenyan leader William Ruto secured an ignominious history yesterday by becoming the first serving government official to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Ruto is the deputy president of Kenya and is charged with crimes against humanity in the aftermath of the 2007 election in which more than 1,100 people died. He was accused of orchestrating violence in which women and children were burnt alive, hacked to death or chased from their homes. Ruto’s appearance at The Hague is to be followed by the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, in November.
“The crimes of which Mr Ruto and Mr Sang are charged were not just random and spontaneous acts of brutality,” Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, told the court. “This was a carefully planned and executed plan of violence - Ruto’s ultimate goal was to seize political power for himself and his party in the event he could not do so via the ballot box.”
It’s not clear what impact the ICC case against Ruto will have. There is no doubt that it will help bring his alleged crimes under international spotlight, making the world shudder at the scale of death and mayhem. But other results are uncertain. Some Kenyans fear the trial could reignite the political violence they have struggled to put behind them. And since Ruto is a government official, the Kenyan government will do everything to derail the trial. Interestingly, Kenya’s parliament voted last week to quit the ICC, although the decision has no bearing on the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto. While there is a strong public opinion everywhere to ensure justice for victims of crimes, in the case of ICC, there is a feeling in Africa that the court is neo-colonist and anti-African. The ICC has prosecuted only Africans and secured only one conviction in its 11-year existence.
Ruto’s own behaviour at the court gave the trial an element of farce. He appeared calm, smiling and laughing with his lawyers. The 46-year-old’s wife and daughter were present in the front row of a public gallery which was packed with dozens of Kenyan parliamentarians. Broadcaster Joshua arap Sang, 38, also standing trial, gave a reporter a thumbs-up sign.
The hearings are expected to take years, which will defeat the very purpose of the case. Prosecutors have complained of widespread witness intimidation ahead of the trial and some witnesses have refused to testify.
While the case against Ruto is praiseworthy, the ICC also needs to act promptly and seriously to restore its own credibility. There are more serious crimes against humanity committed by Western leaders which the court has failed to notice•