ICC says Kenyatta need not attend whole trial for crimes against humanity

Reuters
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Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) talks to Kenyan delegates during the Extraordinary Session of the …

By Drazen Jorgic and Anthony Deutsch

NAIROBI/AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Judges at the International Criminal Court on Friday excused Uhuru Kenyatta from "continuous presence" at his impending trial for crimes against humanity, a move analysts said would prolong the Kenyan president's co-operation with the court.

African leaders, noting the ICC has brought cases only against Africans, had called on the Hague-based court to postpone the trial, due to start next month, and on Kenyatta not to attend. Western states had urged him to cooperate with the ICC.

The stand-off had threatened to damage relations between western nations and Kenya, an ally in the fight against radical Islam in Somalia and east Africa. Kenya has long been seen as a key security partner for Israel, the United States and Britain.

"This decision significantly increases the likelihood that Kenyatta will continue to co-operate and comply with the ICC," said Paul Gabriel, east Africa analyst at Control Risks.

Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are accused of orchestrating a wave of violence in which 1,200 people died after contested 2007 elections. Both men deny the charges and have tried to have the prosecutions adjourned or halted.

Analysts say the ICC has an "image problem" in Africa where local leaders often point out the court has convicted just one man, a Congolese warlord, and has only charged Africans. Many see the court as a biased tool of Western powers.

MALL SIEGE

The African backlash against the court intensified after gunmen from the Somali militant group al Shabaab last month raided a shopping mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people. Kenyatta's nephew and his fiance died during the four-day siege.

A western diplomat based in Nairobi said it was vital to avoid a break between Kenya and the ICC after tempers became "heated" over the past few weeks.

"(The ICC decision) leaves time for cool heads on both sides to discuss things. It makes sense," the diplomat said.

The decision to give Kenyatta time at home to deal with official duties rather than attending the whole trial was adopted by a majority vote, with presiding Judge Kuniko Ozaki dissenting, the ICC said in a statement.

The judges said Kenyatta was still required to attend opening and closing remarks of the trial, hear the victims's testimonies, and listen to the delivery of the final judgement.

The proceedings in The Hague against Ruto were delayed last month to allow him to deal with the assault on the Westgate mall.

Kenyatta's trial, scheduled to start on November 12., is the court's most high-profile case since it was established a decade ago and the first against a sitting president.

However, international support for the court, especially from the West, has waned in recent months, Gabriel said.

"The ICC feels that it doesn't have the backing it needs to pursue a confrontation with Kenyatta," he added.

The judges said Kenyatta's request to be excused from attending the trial could still be turned down in the future, and an arrest warrant issued, if he stops co-operating with the court.

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