ICC gives prosecutors one-week deadline to finalise Kenyatta trial

3rd December 2014, Comments 0 comments

The International Criminal Court on Wednesday gave prosecutors a final week either to strengthen or drop crimes against humanity charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, saying a trial could not be postponed any longer.

"The Chamber directed the prosecution to file a notice, within a week, indicating either its withdrawal of the charges... or that the evidentiary basis has improved to a degree which would justify proceeding to trial," The Hague-based tribunal said in a statement.

Kenyatta, 53, faces five charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly masterminding deadly post-election violence in the east African country in 2007-08 in which more than 1,200 people died and 600,000 others were displaced.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in September asked for an indefinite delay in the Kenyan leader's long-running and troubled case, citing a lack of evidence and Nairobi's refusal to cooperate in the investigation.

But judges on Wednesday slapped down Bensouda's request for an indefinite postponement until the Kenyan government cooperated, saying it "would be contrary to the interest of justice under the circumstances".

In an apparent final push against the African leader, prosecutors earlier this year asked Nairobi for financial documents which they believed could have proven their case.

Prosecutors hoped documents -- among the company records, bank statements, records of land transfers, tax returns, phone records and foreign exchange records -- would prove a link between Kenyatta and the deadliest unrest in Kenya since independence in 1963.

Judges however said that if "the prosecution had genuinely considered such compliance to be so central to establishing the charges in this case, the Chamber would have expected it to be vigorously persued at a much earlier stage."

The judges also added there was no evidence to substantiate allegations that Kenyatta abused his position as president to interfere in the prosecution's investigation.

Kenyatta in October became the first sitting president to appear before the ICC, the world's only permanent independent court to try the worst crimes.

At that hearing, prosecutors admitted they did not have enough evidence to take Kenyatta to trial in a case that has seen at least seven prosecution witnesses drop out, allegedly through bribes and intimidation.

Kenyatta's lawyer called for the judges to drop the charges and acquit his client while Kenyatta himself said prosecutors had "nothing" on him.

On Wednesday, judges said if the prosecution's case could not be strengthened, "the Chamber is of the view that the appropriate course of action would be the prompt withdrawal of the charges."

"The onus is on the prosecution to present a case ready for trial and... the Chamber considers that the prosecution has had ample time in which to do so," the judges added.

Post-election violence shattered Kenya's image as a beacon of stability in east Africa in late 2007 when 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 in which Kenyatta and his rival-turned-partner, Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, were both charged before the ICC.

Both Kenyatta and Ruto -- who went on trial in September last year -- maintain their innocence.

© 2014 AFP

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