ICC rejects Kenya bid to halt election violence probe

Residents of the Mathare slum in Nairobi shout at protesters during clashes between two rival groups (1 January 2008) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The violence brought Kenya to the brink of civil war

Judges from the International Criminal Court have ruled against a Kenyan government request to halt a probe into violence following the 2007 elections.

The ICC said Kenya had failed to prove it was investigating six suspects accused of masterminding the violence.

The accused, including Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, deny they committed crimes against humanity during the unrest in which some 1,000 people died.

ICC officials are in Kenya to discuss how to protect witnesses in the cases.

Officials in Nairobi had argued that the adoption of a new constitution and other reforms had opened the way for Kenya to prosecute those responsible.

But the judges at The Hague said they had failed to prove the local authorities were investigating the six suspects so far named.

On Monday, a team from the office of the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, began discussions with the Kenyan authorities about protecting the witnesses.

The ICC officials would "assess not just the specific protection program", but would also want to "understand the current position of the government in relation with the post-electoral violence", a statement said.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo complained on Sunday that high-ranking members of the government had misrepresented ICC efforts to do justice for the victims as an attack against Kenyan sovereignty.

"They are pursuing regional and political campaigns to stop the case. Not only is this sending the wrong signal, but it is also promoting a growing climate of fear that is intimidating potential witnesses and ultimately undermining national and international investigations," he said.

"My question to the Kenyan government is this: does the government of Kenya want justice for the victims? We need an unequivocal answer, an answer that Kenyans and the world could understand," he added.

"Is the government of Kenya protecting witnesses or protecting the suspects from investigation? That is the question."

Kenya's Justice Minister, Mutula Kilonzo, told the BBC's Focus on Africa on Monday there was no truth in the allegation.

"We have turned backwards, we have facilitated everything, we have signed all agreements," he said. "All [Mr Moreno-Ocampo's] investigators have been given first-rate treatment."

Last year, the ICC warned that it would request arrest warrants for anyone who tried to threaten witnesses involved in the cases, or their families, and that it was taking steps to identify those responsible for intimidation.

In addition to Mr Kenyatta, the accused are Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura, Postal Corporation chief Hussein Ali, suspended government ministers William Ruto and Henry Kosgey, and radio executive Joshua Arap Sang.

The violence, which brought Kenya to the brink of civil war, broke out after supporters of President Mwai Kibaki were accused of trying to rig the presidential election in December 2007.

It ended when Mr Kibaki and the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, agreed to share power, with the latter becoming prime minister.

They also agreed that those responsible would face justice in Kenya or at the ICC in The Hague.

ICC judges are to hold hearings in September to decide whether the men should stand trial. If convicted, they could face life imprisonment.

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