NAIROBI — Kenya’s president said it could be forced to halt cooperation with the International Criminal Court if it requires him and his deputy — both charged with crimes against humanity — to attend hearings in The Hague at the same time.
The West has urged Nairobi to cooperate with the ICC because its failure to do so would undercut contacts with Nairobi seen as crucial to its role as a regional bulwark against militant Islam. Kenya is also a big recipient of US and European aid.
Diplomats have said until now that they expect President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, to live up to pledges to cooperate. But Kenyatta’s new comments could raise concern about a change of heart.
Kenyatta’s ICC trial starts in November while Ruto left Kenya today to attend tomorrow’s first hearing.
Kenyatta and Ruto, who won an election in March, are accused of leading their respective ethnic groups to fight each other in violence that followed Kenya’s disputed 2007 election, when they were in rival political camps.
Failure to cooperate could, in a worst case, prompt an arrest warrant that might in turn incur penalties from generous Western donors against east Africa’s biggest economy, although diplomats have said they think that is an unlikely scenario.
“If you want us to continue to cooperate with the ICC process let me make it crystal clear that when Ruto is at The Hague I will be here and when I am at The Hague he will be here,” the president told a prayer rally on Sunday.
He said he was speaking “in my capacity as the president of this republic, not as an accused person”, addressing supporters attending the event to pray for the two men before trial.
Kenyatta had told a rally on Saturday in Eldoret near Ruto’s political stronghold that Kenyans should not be worried even if both men were away. Sunday’s comments indicated a tougher line.
Last week, parliament, dominated by Kenyatta’s supporters, voted to pull out of the ICC’s jurisdiction, a move that would take a year to implement and would not affect trials in motion, but has raised some concerns about Kenyan commitment.
The ICC is already facing growing opposition in Africa, where it is seen as biased for having only charged Africans. (Reuters)