Investigators at the International Criminal Court are poised to name up to six suspects they say were behind Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008, in a case that has increased political tensions in the east African country.
The ICC case is expected to serve as an important deterrent against violence in future elections, demonstrating that politicians and others who instigate such mayhem will be held accountable and punished.
The naming of the suspects, due on Wednesday, is already heightening tensions in Kenya and will test the brittle coalition government, Reuters reports.
The media in Kenya has reported that changes in the cabinet could take place as leaders come under pressure to resign and a realignment of political loyalties could soon follow.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo started a formal probe in March 2010 into the 2008 post-election violence in which 1,220 people died and more than 350,000 were displaced, severely denting Kenya’s reputation for stability in a turbulent region of Africa.
“Victims were hurt. They were raped, their homes burnt and they lost their cattle, they lost all means to support themselves,” said Moreno-Ocampo when he announced plans to launch the investigation. “We are siding with them. We will do justice.”
Moreno-Ocampo will present two cases, both with up to three suspects, and is widely expected by human rights groups to name suspects from Kenya’s two main political movements: the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement.
Coalition leaders, business leaders and security chiefs could be named, and although the prosecutor has said he will request summons for voluntary appearances, judges could still opt to issue arrest warrants.
Prominent politician William Ruto, who denies allegations he helped instigate the violence, has started legal moves to try to prevent the ICC from naming him and other suspects, but it is uncertain whether such an attempt would succeed.
The president’s office in Kenya said on Monday it would set up a local court to try suspects involved in the violence and that it would be established regardless of what the ICC does.
“The best-case scenario would be to have ICC prosecutions going forward and complemented at the national level with additional trials of other perpetrators,” said Liz Evenson at Human Rights Watch.
“At the end of the day, it is up to ICC judges to decide whether there is some national proceeding in place that cuts off ICC jurisdiction, but I think we’re still far off from that.”
Kenya also suffered from outbreaks of violence at the time of the 1992 and 1997 elections and a coalition of NGOs that supports the work of the court has blamed the recurrence of violence in 2008 on a “culture of impunity”.
The results of the December 2007 election were disputed, prompting protests which escalated in early 2008 when militias attacked opponents and police used excessive force. Violence was centred in the Rift Valley, an opposition stronghold.
As a court of last resort, the ICC’s task is to try those most responsible for the violence and the coalition said prosecutions at the ICC level would deter future violence, especially around the 2012 elections.
Moreno-Ocampo is now very popular in Kenya, where polls show a majority support the ICC action amid frustration at the failure of Kenyan institutions to prosecute high-level suspects.
Amid fears of renewed violence, the European Union’s ambassador, Eric van der Linden, told Reuters he is confident Kenya’s political leaders will not allow the country to again descend into tribal bloodletting.