THE International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor on Friday dropped crimes against humanity charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, dealing a blow to the tribunal after a long-running and troubled case.
The bombshell announcement came two days after the ICC’s judges gave prosecutors one week to strengthen or drop the charges against Kenyatta, saying a trial could no longer be postponed.
Kenyatta, who has maintained his innocence throughout, reacted by saying he had been “vindicated” in the case linked to the country’s 2007-08 post-election violence.
“I am very keen to run to my wife right now and tell her what is happening,” Kenyatta said in a message posted on Twitter, using the hashtag “vindicated”.
He vowed to fight on until two remaining cases at the ICC against Kenyans, including one against his deputy William Ruto, are dropped.
“As they say, one case down, two more to go,” Kenyatta said in another message.
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the charges were being withdrawn in a document filed at the Hague-based court.
“The Prosecution withdraws the charges against Mr Kenyatta,” Bensouda wrote, adding “the evidence has not improved to such an extent that Mr Kenyatta’s alleged criminal responsibility can be proven beyond reasonable doubt.”
Bensouda said the withdrawal was “without prejudice”, meaning that should there be enough evidence against Kenyatta in the future, the charges could be reinstated.
Kenyatta, 53, faced five charges including murder, rape and deportation or forcible transfer for allegedly masterminding post-election violence in the east African country in 2007-08 in which more than 1,200 people died and 600,000 were displaced.
Legal experts say the announcement after a marathon four-year investigation, littered with allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony, will come as a severe blow to Bensouda’s office and the Hague-based ICC, set up in 2002 to probe the world’s gravest crimes.
Kenya fought an international campaign to put Kenyatta’s trial on hold, as well as that of his rival-turned-partner Ruto, who has been on trial at the ICC on similar charges since September 2013.
Both men reject the charges.
African leaders also frequently called for the charges to be withdrawn, saying the ICC’s investigations unfairly targeted their continent.
Prosecutors, in a last-ditch effort to build a case against the African strongman, asked judges to postpone the trial and rule that Nairobi refused to cooperate in a request to hand over documents which prosecutors said may prove Kenyatta’s guilt.
But the ICC’s judges on Wednesday slapped down the request, instead giving Bensouda’s office seven days to beef up the charges or drop them.
Bensouda on Friday squarely blamed Nairobi for the case’s collapse, saying she had “persistently sought to secure the cooperation that my office required from the government of Kenya in this case in order to execute my mandate.”
“To be sure, the government of Kenya’s failure to provide my office important records has had a severe impact on this case,” she said.
Bensouda said her office “faced other severe challenges” including a relentless stream of false media reports in Kenya, and an “unprecedented campaign” on social media to expose the names of prosecution witnesses and threats, harassment and intimidation of would-be witnesses.
Rights groups also lamented the decision, saying it set back efforts to end a culture of impunity in the east African country.
“It’s clear that a long tradition of impunity in Kenya and pressure on witnesses have been serious obstacles to a fair process before the ICC,” said Elizabeth Evenson, Human Rights Watch’s senior international counsel told AFP.
Experts said they hoped Bensouda’s office would draw experience from the case on how to conduct future successful investigations.
“There were shortcomings in the way the prosecutor’s office conducted itself and it will be important to solve it in the future,” international law expert Dov Jacobs told AFP.
Bitter memories still fresh
Bitter memories are still fresh in Kenya from 2007, when post-poll violence shattered the country’s image as a beacon of regional stability.
Violence broke out after opposition chief Raila Odinga accused then president Mwai Kibaki of rigging his way to re-election.
What began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe, who in turn launched reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of unrest since independence in 1963.. .