KENYA: Catholic bishops slam ICC pull-out vote

President Uhuru Kenyatta and His Deputy President Wiliam Ruto take questions from the press during presentation of the nominees for the posts of Cabinet Secretary in the National Tressury, ICT and Health

The Catholic Church in Kenya has joined the political opposition and civil society groups in condemning a vote by Kenya’s two-house parliament to pull the country out of the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court.

Kenya’s parliament is controlled by the ruling Jubilee Coalition, whose leaders are facing charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague. ICC prosecutors alleged that the two masterminded and funded the post-election violence of 2007-2008. The third suspect is radio journalist Joshua arap Sang.

Over 1,100 people were killed in the chaos and up to 600,000 displaced. Some of those displaced are still living in internally displaced people’s camps five years after the mayhem.

When the case against Ruto and his co-accused Sang opened at The Hague on Tuesday, September 10, the Senate passed a motion urging Kenya to withdraw from the Rome Statute. The House of Representatives had passed a similar motion on Thursday last week. On both occasions, Cord Coalition, the official opposition abstained from voting in protest.

The Catholic Church said, in a statement signed by Archbishop Zachaeus Okoth, chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, that “the passing of the motion to withdraw Kenya from the Rome Statute was a vote for impunity, one that could hamper the court’s ability to investigate crimes in Kenya now and in future; one that strips the Kenyan people of one of the most important human rights protections and sets the stage for crimes to be committed with impunity. It is a dangerous move.”

The motion by Kenya’s parliament is futile because it will not affect the cases that are already underway, the ICC has said. But should the government proceed to seek withdrawal from the Rome Statute, it would take about a year to grant the request.

An ICC official stated that victims of the violence would not receive compensation from the court if Kenya proceeded to withdraw from the Rome Statute.

In the spirit of protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law, the Catholic bishops said, the Kenyan parliament, the Senate and the government should note that a ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ verdict was all that Kenya needed from the ICC, and that withdrawing from the Rome Statute amounted to running away from international commitments.

The clerics further expressed concern about the impact of that move on Kenya’s already battered international image on account of the trial of its president and deputy. They said that withdrawal from the ICC would “hurt Kenya’s reputation as a nation that supports international human rights and the rule of law. It also jeopardizes international relations and might easily isolate the country from the rest of the world.”

Already Kenya is suffering some level of isolation from especially Western countries, its close neo-colonial allies in the past 50 years of independence.

During a visit by President Kenyatta to the United Kingdom in April, Prime Minister David Cameron is believed to have refused to appear in photographs with the high-profile crimes against humanity suspect. Similarly, US President Barack Obama whose father was born in Kenya is thought to have avoided Kenya for the same reason during his July visit to Africa. He received a rousing welcome in neighbouring Tanzania.

While passing the motion to withdraw from the ICC, Jubilee Members of Parliament and Senators argued that the court is a western imperialist tool targeting African leaders. But it was Kenya that willingly ratified the Rome Statute in 2005 without raising any ideological objections at the time.

The current cases ended up at the ICC after Kenya failed to set up a special tribunal to try suspected perpetrators of the post-election violence. Deputy President Ruto was particularly a strong supporter of the ICC option.

Former UN Secretary General Koffi Anan who led an African Union-mandated team that brokered a peace deal that ended the post-election violence in Kenya and set the stage for a coalition government of national unity said on Monday that a national commission of inquiry into the violence, the so-called Waki Commission, had recommended the establishment of a special tribunal to try perpetrators.

“Kenya’s leaders initially agreed to establish a special tribunal, but proposals for a court were defeated twice by parliament,” he said. Thereafter Anan handed over to the ICC a sealed envelope containing the names of the suspected masterminds of the mayhem as established by the Waki Commission.

“The supporters of Mr. Kenyatta and his running mate, Mr. Ruto, who won the presidential election earlier this year despite the charges against them, have spoken often of the meddling of ‘foreign powers’”, Annan wrote in the New York Times.

“But the record is clear and there should be no doubt: it was the Kenyan government’s own failure to provide justice to the victims and their survivors that paved the way to the ICC, a court of last resort.”

Until now, Kenya has not carried out any credible investigations or prosecutions of people responsible for the post-election violence, leaving critics wondering what would happen in future if there was another round of politically instigated mass violence after Kenya has withdrawn from the ICC.

This week’s trial of Ruto and Sang at the ICC started amidst reports of mysterious withdrawal of numerous prosecution witnesses. The witnesses are widely believed to have been bribed. President Kenyatta’s trial begins on November 12.

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