Nairobi — Kenyans voiced a host of differing opinions following lawmakers' vote Thursday (September 5th) to back a motion to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The symbolic vote will not impact upcoming trials of Deputy President William Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta, and parliament must next vote on a bill within 30 days to formalise steps for an actual withdrawal.
The motion "to suspend any links, co-operation and assistance" to the court was overwhelmingly approved by the National Assembly through a voice vote. To date, 122 states are party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, and if Kenya leaves the ICC it would be the first court member to do so.
Lawmakers speak out in heated debate:
In a heated debate in which lawmakers were frequently called to order as they stamped on the floor and cheered their colleagues, parliamentary majority leader Aden Duale said leaving the ICC would defend the country's constitution and "redeem the image of Kenya".
"It will set the stage for the end to the culture of impunity both at home and abroad," Duale said. But opposition lawmaker Jakoyo Midiwo said it was "a dark day for Kenya" and that the country would "suffer consequences of pulling out". "What message are we sending to the ICC?" opposition leader Francis Nyenze said. "It is not good for the country to be seen to be hostile to the court."
The Jubilee Coalition of Kenyatta and Ruto dominate Kenya's National Assembly and Senate, its upper house, which is due to discuss the motion next week. Any actual withdrawal from the ICC requires the submission of a formal request to the United Nations, a process that would take at least a year. A withdrawal could, however, preclude the ICC from investigating and prosecuting any future crimes.
"A withdrawal does not in any way affect ongoing cases and proceedings," ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said in a statement. "A referendum or a government's decision would not change Kenya's obligation under international law... to fully co-operate with the ICC in respect to cases." Cases could then only be brought before the court if the government decides to accept ICC jurisdiction or the UN Security Council makes a referral.
Amnesty International condemned the move, warning that it would strip Kenyans "of one of the most important human rights protections". "This move is just the latest in a series of disturbing initiatives to undermine the work of the ICC in Kenya and across the continent," said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International's Africa programme director.
The human rights organisation called on lawmakers to "stand against impunity and reject this proposal". "What we currently see is the government committing to co-operate with the ICC's cases on one hand and taking every opportunity to politically attack the ICC and undermine it on the other," Belay said.
"I think personal interests have overtaken national interests and Kenyans are going to pay dearly for these senseless legislators' actions," said constitutional lawyer Suyianka Lempaa. "Pulling out of an association of civilized nations shows that you are preparing to commit all manners of atrocities against humanity without being accountable to anyone."
Lempaa said the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD) lawmakers should not have walked out of the National Assembly during the heated debate. "It is true the Jubilee MPs have the numbers and were expected to overwhelmingly approve the motion but CORD MP's should have stayed put in the house and have their voices heard," he told Sabahi.
"Membership to ICC is ratified by 121 countries including 34 in Africa," Lempaa said. "Why should Kenya operate out of the armpits of the civilized nations unless it fears something? I have a feeling this motion will make Kenya be seen as a pariah state." Parliamentarian Stephen Manoti, who represents Bobasi Constituency, explained his reasoning for supporting Kenya's withdrawal from the ICC.
"The ICC is a racist court and it discriminates against Africans," he told Sabahi. "We have a reformed and competent judiciary which is able to comfortably handle all cases ICC is purporting to solve." "We know a withdrawal has no immediate effect regarding the current cases facing President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy President William Ruto, but for the sake of future events, we needed to pull Kenya from the ICC to protect the sovereignty of Kenya and integrity of elected leaders," Manoti said.
"I think this is the greatest impunity against the rule of law by parliamentarians," Gitahi Ngunyi, political writer for Kenya's The People newspaper, told Sabahi. "If President Uhuru and his deputy are innocent and white as cotton wool, why then should MPs spend midnight oil debating on how Kenya should defeat justice?" he said, adding that pulling out of the ICC sends a wrong signal that Kenya has something to hide and fear.
"The ICC does not follow people if there are no crimes committed," he said.