The first Kenyans to ever face accusations before an international criminal court took to the stands on Thursday in a preliminary appearance over events stemming from the 2008 post election violence.
Suspended Cabinet minister William Ruto, former Industrialisation minister Henry Kosgey and broadcaster Joshua Sang were separately asked to confirm their identities, whether their rights had been explained to them sufficiently and if they had been informed of allegations against them.
They will return to the court on September 1, to begin the confirmation of charges hearing, the judge said, but indicated that this could be varied if there are good grounds.
On April 18, the court will sit to determine the documents and evidence that the prosecutor has. Chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo declared: “Today is accountability day for Kenya”.
Mr Ruto, Mr Kosgey and Mr Sang face accusations of murder, eviction of people and persecution. The charges state that the offences were committed in and around the larger Eldoret and Nandi areas.
On Friday afternoon, deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta, Civil Service Head Francis Muthaura and Postmaster General Hussein Ali will face similar charges before the ICC.
The events, which led to the charges, stem from the violence which engulfed the country after the disputed Presidential election of December 2007. A total of 1,133 people were reported to have been killed and nearly 600,000 displaced.
Presiding Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova from Bulgaria, warned against emergence of “dangerous speech” but said the chamber was not referring to anyone in particular.
The judge said the issue had been brought to the court's attention through Kenyan newspapers.
She said use of dangerous speech would constitute a breach of the conditions for the summonses and trigger issuing of arrest warrants.
Mr Ruto and Mr Sang used the appearance to deny the charges.
The Eldoret North MP described the accusations and initial appearance as “the stuff of movies”.
He termed the process “a devilish manner” and said that according to him the six facing charges would prevail.
“You know those charges read in there, murder, persecution and the allegations made against us are only possible in movies...it is not possible to happen in our country," he said.
Mr Sang described himself as “an innocent journalist” who did not deserve to be hurled before the ICC.
Sang said: “We came here in response to the summons. We came because we want a chance to answer to the falsehoods that has been peddled against us....”
Mr Kosgey, on the other hand, sat pensively throughout the proceedings but complained that particulars of the allegations had not been provided to enable them to sufficiently prepare their defence.
Lady Justice Trendafilova said no one was facing charges before the ICC in the current proceedings and their initial appearance was to confirm that the three knew their rights, that they had been informed of allegations against them and for the chamber to set a date for the start of confirmation of charges hearings.
Mr Ruto was the first to be asked by the court to confirm his identity, date and place of birth and current profession. He gave his date of birth as December 21, 1966 at Kamagut Village, Uasin Gishu County and his official position as Eldoret North MP.
He is represented by British lawyer, David Hooper and Kenyan lawyers Kioko Kilukumi, Joseph Kipchumba Kigen-Katwa and Kithure Kindiki.
To his right was Mr Kosgey who said he was born on July 14, 1947, in Nandi County. He gave his occupation as MP for Tinderet.
Sitting on Mr Kosgey’s left hand side was his Kenyan defence team led by Mr George Oraro and Julius Kemboy.
The last to respond was Mr Sang who gave his date of birth as 9 September, 1974 in Cherangany, Trans Nzoia County.
Outside the court in Maanweg Street, in the Dutch city of the Hague, a typical Kenyan spectacle was playing out.
A group of MPs escorting the suspects sang the national anthem and other patriotic songs, including Kenya Nchi Yetu as they waited for the first three suspects to arrive.
They were joined by two men, Mr George Oyugi who said he had travelled from Kenya and Mr George Taita from Germany.
They carried placards that read “Kenya is not for sale. We have local experts,” and “We demand fairness. Stop biased trials.”
At one stage, the two were whisked away by Dutch police and taken to a park area where their identities and paperwork were checked.
The police insisted the two were not under arrest but were being led to an area where they could picket. A march by Kenyans in the Diaspora in support of the ICC did not materialise.
Mr Odinga’s advisors Miguna Miguna and Salim Lone were also present and entered the public galleries to follow proceedings.
Mr Miguna repeated allegations that State money had been used to transport the entourage of 40 MPs to The Hague to support the six, a claim denied by the MPs.
Representatives of NGOs and lobbyists from Kenya and other parts of the world supporting the ICC observed proceedings from far and did not come into confrontation with the MPs.
In what seemed an irony of fate, former foes from ODM and PNU were now united and maintained that the government was adequately dealing with events from the post election violence.
Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau, speaking on behalf of the group, said rival communities whose members had fought during the post election violence had now reconciled.
Mr Kosgey was the first to arrive at the court escorted by his lawyers. He arrived by taxi at 8.20 am and was received by embassy officials. He was followed by Mr Sang who announced that he expected justice.
Mr Ruto was the last to arrive by taxi with his wife and daughter. He responded to greetings in Swahili but declined to make any further comments.
Attorney General Amos Wako, solicitor General Wanjuki Muchemi and Deputy Public Prosecutor Keriako Tobiko arrived escorted by Kenya's ambassador to The Netherlands Ruthie Rono.