Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) – Kenyan politicians who allegedly had links to the post-election ethnic violence that claimed 1,300 lives early this year are alarmed at the possibility they may face prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
Cases will be handed to the ICC if the Kenyan government fails to establish within 60 days a special tribunal here, with international involvement, to prosecute the suspects.
The violence was triggered by a dispute over a presidential election at the end of 2007. It pitted supporters of the incumbent, President Mwai Kibaki – a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group – and against those of his Luo rival, Raila Odinga.
The carnage eventually ended with a negotiated power-sharing deal that left Kibaki in power, with Odinga given the post of prime minister.
A comprehensive legal report into the post-election violence, recently published, called for those responsible to face justice before a special tribunal, or failing that, then before the ICC. A list of names of suspects has been sealed.
Worried about the implications, politicians from all camps have condemned the findings of the Waki Commission – named for its chairman, Kenyan judge Philip Waki – with those suspecting to be implicated lobbying their parties and members of their ethnic groups to reject the findings.
The Kenyan cabinet, contrary to high public expectations, failed to discuss the politically-charged issue during a weekly meeting on Thursday.
Alex Riungu, a political scientist working with Indian Ocean Consulting Group, a new political consultancy, said it could be weeks before a cabinet decision on the issue is communicated, probably because the findings implicate some cabinet ministers.
“This is an issue that has shaken the political class, but it offers the best chance to end impunity for those who commit political crimes in Kenya,” he said.
Foreign diplomatic missions in Kenya are calling on Kenya’s leaders to implement the findings and ensure that those responsible for the violence are held to account.
“Implementation is essential to ensure the future democratic stability of the country,” said a joint statement, signed by envoys of the U.S., Canada, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and European Union members.
The ICC, based in The Hague, first confirmed that it was studying the issue in April. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, a publicly funded body, has confirmed that the global court has asked for investigative documents relating to violence.
Deputy head Hassan Omar Hassan said the ICC last week requested reports to determine whether there was sufficient evidence for prosecutions.
Waki has handed over additional evidence and the names of those suspected to have financed, facilitated or incited the killings to Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general, who mediated the power-sharing agreement.
Establishment of the Waki Commission was part of the international guarantee accorded to the peace deal.
Many ordinary Kenyans welcomed its recommendations, seeing it as possible solution to the cycle of ethnic violence that recurs regularly here during election years. Despite several inquiries in the past, no prosecutions have taken place.
Politicians typically encourage mostly unemployed youths to fight people from rival ethic tribes. After the election, the youths are generally abandoned and left to live with the same people they were fighting, exacerbating social tensions and fragmentation.
“We hope this time around justice will happen,” said Dennis Mtu, a shop attendant in the capital, Nairobi. “It is a chance to get new leaders and end the cycle of violence.”
An editorial in a local daily, The Standard, warned politicians not to think they will have the last word on the report into post-election violence.
“It is not your role to do so. Whenever you trash the Waki findings, you appear callous and sadistic to the families that lost loved ones and investors who have been counting their losses ever since,” it said.
The paper urged politicians instead to discuss the envisaged tribunal’s mandate, investigation procedure, trial and appeal process.