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ICC prosecutor says Kenya must press charges

Chief prosecutor Ocampo said the murders of about 1,500 people were “crimes against humanity.”

It was all smiles when International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, left, shook hands with Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Nairobi, Nov. 5, 2009. Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki stood by. But the mood became tougher when Moreno-Ocampo announced he will request an investigation into suspected crimes against humanity committed during Kenya's post-election violence. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The long years of impunity enjoyed by Kenya’s power brokers may finally be drawing to a close.

During a visit to this East African country last month, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), said he would seek to bring to trial some of those responsible for inciting and organizing the violence that followed disputed elections here in December 2007.

Calling the murders of about 1,500 people in the weeks after the poll “crimes against humanity,” Ocampo said that he wanted to begin an investigation that could result in senior Kenyan politicians, cabinet ministers and businessmen facing trial at The Hague-based court.

The ICC prosecutor laid out his plans at a press conference held jointly with the two leaders of Kenya’s fractious coalition government in Nairobi.

“I explained to [the president and prime minister] that I consider the crimes committed in Kenya were crimes against humanity and I consider that therefore the gravity is there, so therefore I should proceed,” he said.

Ocampo said he will ask the ICC pre-trial judges to give him a mandate to begin an investigation in December, a process that is likely to lead to the issuing of international arrest warrants.

If the ICC judges agree it will be the first time the prosecutor has unilaterally opened an investigation. Investigations underway — including in Sudan’s Darfur region, northern Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic — have either been referred to the world court by the states themselves or by the United Nations Security Council.

Kenya signed up to the Rome Statutes that laid the groundwork for the establishment of the ICC in 2002 and so is obliged to assist in its investigations.

“We are ready and willing to work in cooperation with Mr Ocampo to ensure that those who bear responsibility for the crimes that were committed are brought to justice,” Prime Minister Raila Odinga insisted. “We are ready to work with his court so that we don't see a repeat of what we saw last year.”

But there are question marks over the level of cooperation that will actually be offered. There has been no progress in establishing an oft-promised and much-delayed special tribunal to judge the masterminds the violence and so far not a single perpetrator has been brought to book.