Three prominent Kenyans have appeared before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity stemming back to violence after the disputed 2007 election that left about 1,200 dead.
The three, key party figures in Kenya’s current coalition government and close associates of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, are charged with crimes against humanity including murder, deportation, rape, inhumane acts, forcible transfer and persecution.
They are former higher education minister William Ruto, former industry minister Henry Kosgey and radio presenter Joshua Arap Sang, members of the so-called "Ocampo Six," named after the court’s prosecutor who is bringing the charges. Ruto has been suspended from the ministry and Kosgey stepped aside in January pending the outcome
The three are appearing at The Hague voluntarily for the pre-trial hearing, set to ensure the men understand the charged against them. A procedural hearing, which they are not required to attend, is set for April 18 and another to confirm the charges set for Sept. 1.
A second group of accused, including Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura, head of the civil service, and former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali, are to appear before the court Friday, Bloomberg reports. The ICC divided the six accused into two groups according to their political allegiances.
The post-election fighting reportedly drove 500,000 people from their homes and crippled East Africa’s largest economy after farmers neglected their crops and tourists were scared off.
Peace was restored after President Mwai Kibaki signed a power-sharing accord with his political opponent, Odinga.
Ruto, a potential candidate in next year's presidential election, dismissed the charges against him as "stories from the prosecutor and his team," telling the court: "The allegations that have been made here, it sounds that they are only possible in a movie."
After the hearing, he told reporters: "An innocent person like me, to be dragged all the way here, is a matter that puzzles me ... There's no reason for us to be here, we're innocent people. There's no court that tries innocent people." He then sang Kenya's national anthem backed by about 30 Kenyan lawmakers who came to support him, AFP reported.
The Kenyan government has petitioned the court to drop the charges, on the basis it could prosecute the cases in Kenya, VOA reported.
But the ICC took charge of the case after Nairobi failed to set up a tribunal in line with agreements brokered by former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.
The ICC, an independent, permanent tribunal for crimes against humanity, can only prosecute if a state is unwilling or unable to do so.
"You cannot commit atrocities to gain power or to retain power," ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told journalists after the hearing, AFP reported."You cannot do it in Kenya, you cannot do it in Libya and you cannot do it in other parts of the world."