JUSTICE minister Eugene Wamalwa yesterday declared that ICC suspects are free to contest presidential elections next year. Eldoret North MP William Ruto and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta have both been charged with crimes against humanity at The Hague but have also declared their intention to stand for president in March 2013.
On Monday the ICC set April 10 and 11 as the starting date for the two cases arising out of the post-election violence in 2008. Wamalwa told a press conference yesterday that the constitution deems a person innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. "This in effect brings to closure the acrimonious debate as to whether the ICC process would be used as a political tool to lock out some presidential candidates. Because the court has now ruled, they are free to contest the elections and thereafter proceed with the cases," the minister said.
The possibility now exists that Ruto or Uhuru could be elected president and then immediately proceed to the ICC to stand trial. The Rome Statute provides that an accused person should be physically present during trials at the ICC. The minister was giving a progress report 100 days after he took office at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. "My appeal to all Kenyans and leaders is that we now depoliticize the ICC process and concentrate on holding free, fair, peaceful and democratic elections," Wamalwa told the press conference.
The justice minister stated that the ICC cases were judicial and should not be politicized. "We should let the law take its course for justice to be done for both the victims and the accused," he said. A defensive Wamalwa dismissed allegations that the new Leadership and Integrity Bill had been tailored by his ministry to allow Uhuru and Ruto to contest the elections while facing charges of crimes against humanity. The Bill provides that only persons who have been convicted would be barred from holding public office.
The Bill is now with the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution. It allows suspects to continue holding public offices until convicted, and even then until all appeal mechanisms are exhuasted. Wamalwa's predecessor Mutula Kilonzo had fiercely argued that Uhuru and Ruto could not stand for president until cleared by the ICC. In March Kilonzo was transferred to the Education ministry and replaced by Wamalwa.
Yesterday Wamwalwa urged the Office of the President to withdraw the county commissioners whose appointments were nullified by a constitutional court. "We must respect the court's decision and the institutions we have put in place," he said. On the new constituency boundaries, the minister said the ruling by the five-judge bench on Monday had closed the possibility any further appeals. "Allowing appeals of the rulings would interfere with the elections calendar", he said. "The Kenyan courts have ruled on the boundaries issue and given the IEBC a green light to commence preparation for elections," he said.
He listed a number of legislative changes as his key achievements since his appointment. These included the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill that paved the way for recruitment of new commissioners to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Act; restarting recruitment of a substantive Registrar of Political Parties; empowering the National Assembly Speaker to declare vacancies for parliamentary seats to allow for by-elections in Kangema, Ndhiwa and Kajiado North; extending the life of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission; and removing the strict deadlines for judges and magistrates to be vetted.