THE HAGUE: Kenya Vice President William Ruto went on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday, the most senior official ever judged by the under-fire tribunal.
“Welcome to all,” said presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji as he opened proceedings before Ruto, dressed in a grey suit and red and white tie, and his co-accused, radio boss Joshua arap Sang.
Ruto, 46, arrived at court voluntarily the day after flying in to The Hague from Nairobi to face charges of masterminding deadly post-election violence in the east African nation five years ago.
A crowd of Kenyan MPs and other supporters welcomed Ruto and Sang, 38, as they arrived for the politically charged trial.
A Ruto bodyguard pushed journalists out of the way, while Sang proclaimed his innocence.
“We are here and now God will see us through,” Sang said.
“I did not contribute to the violence in Kenya, but peace.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, a one-time political foe of Ruto’s turned ally, goes on trial at the ICC on November 12. He also says he is innocent.
The ICC has come under increased pressure globally, especially from the 54-nation African Union, which accused the court of targeting the continent on the basis of race and demanded the court drop the Kenyan prosecutions.
The trial also comes just days after lawmakers in Kenya became the first in the world to approve moves to withdraw recognition of the court’s jurisdiction.
Any move by Kenya to leave the ICC’s Rome Statute will have no effect on the current trials, but observers fear it may spark an exodus of court member states in Africa, where all the ICC’s current cases are based.
“We have come to say that we want to make it clear that these people are innocent,” Kenyan MP William Cheptuno told journalists at the court.
“They are innocent until proven guilty, this is the rule of law in Africa, in Europe, everywhere in the world.”
Ruto and Sang each face three counts of murder, deportation and persecution after a wave of violence swept Kenya in 2007-2008, leaving at least 1,100 dead and more than 600,000 homeless. Both are expected to plead not guilty.