An international human rights group has hailed the request by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to the court’s judges to open a Kenya investigation as “decisive”.
Human Rights Watch said the move marked a significant step in the quest for justice for the post election violence victims.
“The request by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor to the court’s judges to open a Kenya investigation is a decisive step toward justice for the country’s 2007 post-election violence,” the group said in a statement.
Despite a year’s delay and inaction by the government on national prosecutions, the statement goes ahead to state that ICC’s takeover of the cases would go a long way to end impunity while availing an avenue of justice to the victims.
More than 1300 people were killed after chaos broke out in the aftermath of the 2007 General Election and another 600,000 forced to reside in camps after they were evicted from their homes.
Following the violence leaders of ODM and PNU agreed to set up the Waki commission that recommended wide-ranging reforms of the police as well as the creation of a special tribunal for Kenya.
However, several efforts to establish a special tribunal for Kenya failed to garner sufficient support in parliament forcing the ICC to step in.
“The Kenyan government has failed over and over again to keep its promises about justice for the election violence,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Kenya’s leaders should provide full cooperation if the ICC opens an investigation.”
Human Rights Watch states that Mr Ocampo can open an investigation using powers under article 15 of the Rome Statute, which created the court, if authorized to do so by the ICC judges.
Mr Ocampo’s request on Thursday to the panel of judges was the first time the prosecutor has sought to use his article 15 powers. Three of the ICC’s four investigations resulted from voluntary referrals by states, while the fourth was referred by the UN Security Council.
“The ICC is a court of last resort, and when national authorities are unwilling to act, it is supposed to step in,” said Elizabeth Evenson, counsel in the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch. “Today’s (Thursday’s) announcement shows that the ICC prosecutor can and will act on his own in situations of serious crimes.”
Mr Ocampo visited Kenya on November 5, 2009 and met President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga pledged cooperation with the ICC and action on national trials.
Kenya’s justice system has substantial deficiencies, including a lack of independence. Given these problems, further efforts to create a national special tribunal with international judges and prosecutors to provide accountability to mid- and lower-level perpetrators are essential, Human Rights Watch said.
“The promise to prosecute those responsible for last year’s violence was central to the reform and accountability agenda agreed upon by the coalition government,” Gagnon said. “Kenya’s leaders still have a chance to make good on that promise by ensuring that any ICC investigation is complemented by credible national trials.”
Human Rights Watch has also urged the ICC and its prosecutor to apply lessons learned from its current investigations if it proceeds with a Kenya investigation.
“Given the high levels of interest and public support for an ICC investigation in Kenya, Human Rights Watch also urges the court to create extensive outreach programs to provide objective information about the court’s activities as soon as possible.”