Five African countries have written to the International Criminal Court to exempt Deputy President William Ruto from attending all hearings of his case in The Hague.
Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Eritrea want the court to allow Mr Ruto room to execute his constitutional duties. They also want to contest the interpretation of Article 63 of the Rome Statute, which disposes that ‘the accused shall be present during the trial.’
“The court has so far received requests from five African countries asking for leave to submit amicus curiae filings…the filings, if authorised, will present their views on the correct interpretation of the Rome Statute article 63,” the court’s spokesman, Mr Fadi El Abdallah, said Thursday.
The hearing of cases facing Mr Ruto and radio presenter Joshua Sang started on Tuesday, but was adjourned on Wednesday until next Tuesday after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her witnesses were not ready.
Mr Sang and Mr Ruto face charges of murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population and persecution over the 2007/8 post-election violence that left 1,133 people dead and displaced 650,000 others.
The applications follow Ms Bensouda’s appeal against the Trial Chamber V(a) decision granting Mr Ruto leave to be away during the trial — except for specified hearings. The prosecutor argued that justice for the victims required the accused to be present in court throughout the trial.
The court then suspended the ruling pending the appeal.
“For the time being, Mr Ruto is requested to be present at all the hearings in his trial before Trial Chamber V (a), pending a final determination of the Appeals Chamber on the appeal against the excusal decision,” Mr Abdallah said.
Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania want the ICC to strike a balance between its jurisdiction and the responsibilities of those who occupy high office.
Rwanda, which is yet to ratify the Rome Statute, argued that its submissions will help the ICC clarify how people who hold high office will be treated while facing trial.
The country’s Attorney General and Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said granting Mr Ruto his request would bolster the effectiveness of the court “by demonstrating that the court’s framework can accommodate a flexible and pragmatic approach…in proceedings by those occupying high office within the court.”
On Monday, Tanzania’s Attorney General Fredrick Mwita said exempting the Deputy President from some of the hearings would enhance cooperation between the court and state parties.
Meanwhile, the witness who forced the court to adjourn was expected in The Hague yesterday. On Tuesday, Mr Ruto’s lawyer Karim Khan challenged the prosecution to drop the charges for lack of evidence.
The same line was taken by lawyer Katwa Kigen for Mr Sang, who argued that there were major gaps in the prosecution case.
President Kenyatta’s case is expected to start on November 13.
The charges against three other suspects — former head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, former Commissioner of Police Major-General Hussein Ali and former Cabinet minister Henry Kosgey — were dropped for lack of evidence last year.
REQUESTING A REFERRAL
Last evening government officials conversant with an initiative by African countries to put pressure on ICC over the Kenya cases said the African Union had written to the President of ICC, Judge Sang-Hyung Song, on the matter.
The letter alerts the ICC President on the decision of the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of AU requesting for a referral of the Kenya cases.