Kenya’s cabinet met to kick-start plans for a local tribunal to try perpetrators of last year’s post-election violence and prevent the case going to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.
The coalition government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga is under pressure from foreign donors and Kenyans to punish masterminds of the worst bloodletting in the east African nation’s post-independence history.
But more than a year after the end of the violence, which killed at least 1300 people and uprooted 300 000, the government has still been unable to push through parliament a proposal for a special local court.
Crisis mediator Kofi Annan applied pressure last week by handing over a sealed envelope containing 10 names of high-ranking suspects to the ICC prosecutor.
That move has panicked Kenyan political circles, especially as the names of at least two sitting ministers are believed to be in the envelope.
Justice for the 2008 violence is viewed as essential to ensuring stability in the region’s economic powerhouse which faces another election in 2012.
A government statement said Cabinet considered two proposals, one to amend the constitution allowing for the court, and another formally establishing the “Special Tribunal.”
“Both bills were discussed and a special session of cabinet will be held next week to discuss the way forward after cabinet members have had time to study the two proposed bills,” it said.
One political source told Reuters it was a stormy session.
ICC ready to take case
In neighbouring Uganda, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he expects to receive Annan’s envelope on return to Geneva this week, but did not say whether he would publicise the names.
“I will open the envelope, I will read, I will understand what the commission was discussing and then I will seal it again,” he said, referring to the government-appointed Waki Commission which came up with the list.
“I will not use it again, because I have to collect my own evidence and make my own conclusions. This is just preparation for me, the envelope is just an advice, it is not mandatory.”
Moreno-Ocampo intends to take on the case for the ICC if Kenya fails to set up a local court.
Some of the witnesses who testified at the Waki inquiry on the clashes, which reared after Odinga accused Kibaki of stealing the presidential poll, have told local media they have received death threats and are in hiding.
Kibaki and Odinga failed in a previous attempt to push the tribunal measure through parliament.
Legislators shot it down for a mixture of reasons, some from self-interest and others because they thought a local tribunal would be a whitewash, analysts say.
Kenyans are far from convinced their government would arrest and charge guilty parties due to widespread lack of faith in the judiciary, and traditional impunity among the political class.
“The idea of forming a local tribunal for post-election violence suspects is great but then we have all seen the outcome of such things before, nothing,” Nairobi resident Clara Mtini wrote in a letter to a local newspaper.
“We want justice and if it means going to The Hague so be it.