INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda yesterday insisted that she would oppose deferring the trials of presidential aspirants Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto.
However she said she would not be amending the charges against the four Kenyan suspects: Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Eldoret North MP William Ruto, former Public Service chief Francis Muthaura and broadcaster Joshua arap Sang.
"We are carrying on with the same charges. There are no amendments yet," she stated. Bensouda, a Gambian national who took over Luis Moreno Ocampo in April, repeated that the ICC will not be influenced by political events in Kenya.
Both Uhuru and Ruto have insisted that they will stand for president in the March 4, 2013 elections. A second round run-off would be on April 11 but the trials of Uhuru and Ruto are due to start on April 10 and 11.
"Based on their calendar and their workload, the judges have set the start of the trials for April next year. My office is working at full speed to prepare for the start of the trials and the process of disclosure has already begun," she stated.
"The political future of Kenya is in the hands of Kenyans themselves. The people of Kenya will decide on the outcome of the upcoming elections and ultimately, they will shape the future of this great country. The ICC judicial process will also take its own course irrespective of the political choices that the people of Kenya make," Bensouda added.
Bensouda conceded that any decision to defer the trials lay with the judges but was firm that she would not welcome petitions by the defence to delay the start of the trials.
"Our timetable is our timetable," she said. She regretted that the trials had been politicised. "Let me stress this: the people of Kenya are not on trial; the Government of Kenya is not on trial and no ethnic community is on trial before the ICC. The allegations concern individual criminal responsibility. The four accused will have a fair trial and an equal opportunity to refute the allegations. Their guilt or innocence will be established by the Judges at the conclusion of these trials," she said.
She added that the Rome Statute has no provision for immunity, even for sitting presidents. "The Judges of the ICC have agreed that four suspects must face justice for crimes they allegedly committed during the PEV. The ICC Judges have agreed there are substantial grounds to believe that the four suspects committed the crimes they are charged with and that the cases should go to trial. The four are presumed innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof is on my Office to prove the cases against them beyond reasonable doubt."
Bensouda briefed the press yesterday after arriving in Kenya yesterday morning at the start of a five-day visit. "We are working hard every day to address efforts to interfere with our witnesses and our evidence. It is a concern for us, both as the Office of the Prosecutor and the trial judges and we are looking into it very seriously. We want all those tampering with witnesses to stop," Bensouda said.
She added that those interfering with witnesses could be charged under the Rome Statute. "We need to continuously connect with the victims. We are not seeking new witnesses. We are preparing for trials full speed ahead. Our focus is on the trials," she said.
Bensouda is accompanied by Phakiso Mochochoko, Head of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, and Shamiso Mbizvo, Cooperation Advisor.
Her itinerary includes meeting President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, members of the diplomatic community and the top officials. The Prosecutor wants to meet with Kibaki and Raila to confirm Kenya's cooperation with the ICC.
"As with any judicial process we face challenges. We are also working to resolve delays in the execution of our requests by the Government of Kenya. One of my reasons for coming is seeking to strengthen cooperation," she said. She dismissed criticism that the ICC is only targeting Africans.