|Tuesday’s announcement appears to have rattled the Kenyan political class [AFP]|
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecution office is set to name six Kenyans alleged to have masterminded the country’s worst post-independence bloodletting that claimed at least 1,200 lives.
The Hague-based court took charge of trying key suspects in the violence following a disputed presidential election in 2007, after Nairobi failed to set up a local tribunal last year in line with agreements that ended the chaos.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief ICC prosecutor, will announce the names of six people on Wednesday in a move that has been hailed by survivors of the violence. At least 600,000 people were displaced, according to local media.
Earlier this month, Moreno-Ocampo said he had wrapped up his investigations and was going to ask the ICC judges to issue summonses for six people, including former cabinet ministers.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from the Hague, said the “names will be made public and then summonses will be applied for”.
“It will be a process that could last weeks and the judges will return early in the new year to follow up on those summonses,” he said.
“They can issue arrest warrants [and] there are concerns that there could be backlash of violence in Kenya … but here the situation for the prosecutor is straightfoward: he’ll name the suspects and pursue them, and he says that if they don’t voluntarily come to the Hague to appear before the court, he’ll then issue arrest warrants.”
Moreno-Ocampo has previously indicated the suspects are from or linked to the two sides of Kenya’s coalition government: president Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity and prime minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party.
Although Kenya has repeatedly assured the ICC prosecutor of its co-operation, Wednesday’s announcement appears to have rattled the political class.
In a knee-jerk reaction, the government announced it was finally launching a local investigation.
“Kenya’s national interests of peace and security, political stability, national reconciliation and comprehensive justice for all victims of post-election violence cannot be achieved without a local judicial mechanism,” a statement from Kibaki’s office said on Monday.
“Consequently, irrespective of what transpires at the ICC on Wednesday 15th December, 2010 and in view of the fact that ICC is only a court of last resort, the government will establish a local judicial mechanism…”
But observers said this could not be taken seriously, pointing out that legislators twice thwarted efforts to form the tribunal.
Mwalimu Mati of the Kenyan anti-graft watchdog Mars Group said: “I don’t believe that Kenyans are taking it very seriously because they know it would take a while to actually pass the law to make this court a reality.
“Kenyans are hoping that we will see some level of accountability especially for the high-level masterminds who in Kenya’s past have always enjoyed political impunity,” he said.
Ministers and top government officials are widely believed to be among the six. Official Kenyan reports have accused the masterminds of mainly inciting and planning the violence.
Kenya will be the ICC’s fourth African case after Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army top rebels whose charges mainly concern genocide crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The ICC, which started operating in the Hague in 2002, is the world’s only independent, permanent tribunal with the jurisdiction to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Kenya was plunged into its worst post-independence violence after the December 27, 2007 general elections in which then opposition chief Odinga accused Kibaki of rigging his re-election.
What began as political riots soon turned into ethnic killings targeting Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, who then launched reprisal attacks in which homes were torched, people hacked to death and some 300,000 forced to flee their homes.
The violence was brought to an end after Kibaki and Odinga agreed to work in a power-sharing government under a deal brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan.