NAIROBI, Kenya — A prosecutor for the International Criminal Court accused six high-ranking Kenyans of masterminding the political and ethnic violence that wracked the country after disputed elections in 2007.
Three cabinet ministers and a former police chief are among the suspects accused by Luis Moreno-Ocampo of “massive crimes” in an announcement at the court's headquarters in The Hague.
“The post election period of 2007-2008 was one of the most violent periods of the nation’s history,” Moreno-Ocampo said. “These were not just crimes against innocent Kenyans. They were crimes against humanity as a whole.
“By breaking the cycle of impunity for massive crimes, victims and their families can have justice. And Kenyans can pave the way to peaceful elections in 2012,” he said.
Moreno-Ocampo said that eight months of investigations revealed that the six men bore the most responsibility for the violence in which more than 1,100 people were killed and which brought Kenya to the brink of civil war.
Judges at the International Criminal Court will now decide whether to issue a summons or arrest warrant, or to reject the prosecutor’s case. Moreno-Ocampo urged the suspects to appear before the court voluntarily.
U.S. President Barack Obama promptly urged the accused Kenyans to cooperate with the court.
“I urge all of Kenya’s leaders, and the people whom they serve, to cooperate fully with the ICC investigation and remain focused on implementation of the reform agenda and the future of your nation,” Obama said in a statement.
He added that Kenya was, “moving away from impunity and divisionism toward an era of accountability and equal opportunity.”
“The path ahead is not easy, but I believe that the Kenyan people have the courage and resolve to reject those who would drag the country back into the past and rob Kenyans of the singular opportunity that is before them to realize the country's vast potential," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father and scion of a powerful political dynasty, is the most senior politician named.
The suspended minister for higher education, William Ruto, was also named along with former police chief Hussein Ali, Minister for Industrialization Henry Kosgey, Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura and Joshua Sang, a radio journalist.
Kenyatta quickly declared his innocence after the announcement.
“My record is clear and it remains very clear that I have never committed any crime,” Kenyatta said in Nairobi. “I now find myself to be a suspect, I am ready to respond to any allegations made against me.”
Ruto, the most powerful political leader in the Rift Valley where the violence first erupted, also said he was innocent.
“My conscience is clear,” he said.
Sang, operations director of the Kass FM radio station, accused Moreno-Ocampo of acting, “like a politician and not like a prosecutor” in announcing the charges.
Ruto, Kosgey and Sang are ethnic Kalenjins and during the 2007 election were supporters of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). They are accused of planning, organising and funding attacks on members of the Kikuyu ethnic group seen as supporters of the ruling Party on National Unity (PNU).
In one of the worst massacres, 35 Kikuyu people were burned to death in a church in Kiambaa in the Rift Valley.
Moreno-Ocampo said that retaliatory attacks were organized by the other three men: Kenyatta, Muthaura and Ali.
Muthaura, chairman of the National Security Advisory Committee, “authorized the police to use excessive force against civilians,” Moreno-Ocampo said. Ali is accused of implementing the order that led to the deaths of at least 480 civilians, according to a commission of inquiry into the post-election violence.
Kenyatta is accused of being “the focal point” between the government and a Kikuyu criminal gang, known as the Mungiki, which was mobilized to launch deadly retaliatory strikes against Luos, the tribe of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is also acts as the head of the ODM. In one such attack, 19 Luos were burned to death in a house in the town of Naivasha.
“These are not the only people [responsible]; they are the most important,” Moreno-Ocampo said.
Kenyan activists welcomed the court's long-awaited announcement.
“This is massive,” said Mwalimu Mati, director of Mars Group, a governance watchdog. “Since independence we’ve had bouts of political-ethnic conflict and nobody has been punished. For once, and probably for the first time, senior political figures have to contend with the law.”
“It is both a great day and a very sad day,” said John Githongo, chief executive of Inuka Kenya Trust, a civil society organisation. “Great in that it is the beginning of our fight against high level impunity, and sad in that we could not do it ourselves as Kenyans.”
By Wednesday evening it seemed that fears of a violent reaction to the court's announcement had not been realized. In Eldoret, Ruto’s hometown and epicenter of the election killings, there was calm.
“As I talk to you right now I am on the roof of the highest building in Eldoret and I can see people moving about as if nothing has happened,” Ken Wafula, a leading local human rights activist, told GlobalPost. “This is one of the greatest steps the country has made to end the culture of impunity, political violence and negative ethnicity.”