As the beginning of the trial against Kenya's Deputy President, William Samoei Ruto at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague approaches, FIDH, its member organisation in Kenya, KHRC, together with FIDH member organisations in Africa recall that these proceedings are mainly and foremost an opportunity for the whole society to unearth the truth of the violence that took place after the 2007 presidential elections and an opportunity for victims to find justice in an independent court of law.
This process is needed to pave the road towards lasting peace, the prevalence of the rule of law and to prevent any future atrocities such as the ones that took place in 2007/2008.
On Tuesday, 10 September 2013, Ruto, and his co-defendant, Joshua Arap Sang, former head of operations of Kass FM, will face the judges of Trial Chamber V(a) of the ICC.
Both accused are charged with murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the ICC, committed in the context of the 2007/2008 post election violence.
The Kenyan President, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, also faces trial at the ICC, which is scheduled to start on 12 November 2013. The President is accused of murder, deportation or forcible transfer of people, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity committed during the post-election violence.
This is the first time that an incumbent President and Vice-President face trial before the ICC. The Rome Statute, the treaty governing the Court, provides that it should apply equally to all persons, without any distinction based on official capacity.
No Head of State or Government, or any member of Government enjoys immunity from prosecution at the ICC. Their position does not grant them any benefit and nor should it hinder their rights according to the legal texts of the International Criminal Court.
"These are not the trials of a President and a Deputy President. These are trials to establish the facts and individual criminal responsibility for serious crimes. Their positions are and should be irrelevant.
The unsung heroes of these proceedings are the victims and witnesses who, despite a difficult and sometimes threatening environment, have committed themselves to the search for truth and justice. Their engagement will benefit the whole Kenyan society" , stated Patrick Baudouin, FIDH Honorary President.
More than 300 victims have been authorised to participate in the proceedings in the case against Deputy President Ruto. During the last couple months, victims and witnesses participating in the proceedings withdrew their participation in the midst of alleged intimidation.
Along with civil society organisations, they have faced an environment in which public and political figures, as well as some sections of the media, have contributed to create some hostility towards those supporting the investigations and prosecutions of the ICC.
"The victims of the 2007/2008 post-election violence have waited for more than five years to get justice. Given the time-lapse and the intricacies that continue to surround the Kenyan cases, it is time the trials begin!
The ICC can not afford to lose the confidence and trust that the victims have placed in it. It must deliver on the expectations that it will ultimately offer an opportunity for truth about the post-election violence to be unravelled in an impartial judicial process" , expressed David Malombe, KHRC Deputy Executive Director.
"These trials are in the interest of all Kenyans and all Africans. Post-election violence has been suffered in different countries around the continent, and in some instances has reached worrying levels that warranted an international reaction in solidarity with the victims.
Mechanisms that provide an opportunity to stem and reverse violence and gross abuse of human rights should be supported" , said Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa, FIDH Vice President, Ag. Deputy Executive Director at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI - Uganda).
The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC requested an authorization to open the investigation after Kenyan authorities failed in bringing to justice those responsible for the crimes committed during the post-election period.
"The commencement of this trial will bring some hope to victims and their communities, who could not find relief in Kenyan courts. Their quest has been long, their suffering too deep.
Looking at those accused in Court would send a strong message that what happened was wrong, and Kenyans should be reunited in the will to prevent similar atrocities from happening again", expressed Drissa Traore, FIDH Vice President (Côte d'Ivoire).
The limited scope of the ICC, which only focuses on those bearing the greatest responsibility, requires that national authorities investigate and prosecute the crimes committed by middle and lower level perpetrators.
However, more than five years after the violence, there has been little efforts by the Kenyan government to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and ensure justice and reparation for the victims.
The current efforts by members of Parliament from the Jubilee Alliance - supporting Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto - to seek Kenya's withdrawal from the Rome Statute and repeal of the International Criminal Crimes Act, may not only affect Kenya's cooperation with the Court but casts further doubts on the authorities' willingness to bring justice to victims through national proceedings and further perpetuates the culture of impunity.
At the same time, a withdrawal from the Rome Statute would not affect the jurisdiction of the Court in the already open cases.
"In the perspective of the upcoming trials, it is of the utmost importance that Kenyan authorities abide by their obligation and responsibility to fully cooperate with the ICC. Their credibility and victim's rights to truth and justice are at stake", declared Dismas Kitenge Senga, FIDH Vice-President, President of the Groupe Lotus (GL - Democratic Republic of Congo).
"The politicization and media coverage of these trials will be exhausting for victims who have already suffered serious crimes. In such a hostile context, institutions such as the African Union have the responsibility to show full support and solidarity with them.
This implies a public stand for Kenya's unconditional cooperation with the ICC and for effective national proceedings" , declared Mabassa Fall, FIDH Representative to the African Union.
Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme (ASADHO) - Democratic Republic of Congo
African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) - Sudan
Associação Justiça Paz e Democracia (AJPD) - Angola
Association Malienne des Droits de l'Homme (AMDH) - Mali
Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l'Homme (AMDH) - Mauritania
Association Tchadienne pour la Promotion des Droits de l'Homme (ATPDH) - Chad
Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) - Nigeria
Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) - Uganda
Groupe Lotus (GL) - Democratic Republic of Congo
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) - Kenya
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) - South Africa
Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) - Tanzania
Ligue Burundaise des Droits de l'Homme (ITEKA) - Burundi
Ligue des Électeurs (LE) - Democratic Republic of Congo
Ligue Centrafricaine des Droits de l'Homme (LCDH) - Central African Republic
Ligue Ivoirienne de droits de l'Homme (LIDHO) - Côte d'Ivoire
Liga Moçambicana dos Direitos Humanos (LMDH) - Mozambique
Ligue Sénégalaise des Droits Humains (LSDH) - Senegal
Ligue Tchadienne des Droits de l'Homme (LTDH) - Chad
Ligue Togolaise des Droits de l'Homme (LTDH) - Togo
Maison des Droits de l'Homme du Cameroun (MDHC) - Cameroon
Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP) - Burkina Faso
Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits Humains (MIDH) - Ivory Coast
Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l'Homme (OCDH) - Republic of Congo
Organisation Guinéenne des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen (OGDH) - Guinée Conakry
Organisation Nationale des Droits de l'Homme (ONDH) - Senegal
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zimrights) - Zimbabwe
For more information, please consult FIDH publications on Kenya and the ICC.