Kenyan Officials Charged With Crimes Against Humanity

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Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. Kenya is not known for political violence or at least it wasn't until 2007. That year political tension in the east African nation degenerated into deadly ethnic clashes. Now, four Kenyan officials stand accused of orchestrating the violence. The four are facing trial before the international criminal court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity. The BBC's Will Ross is Nairobi, Kenya, and he takes us back now to 2007 and the events that triggered today's indictments.

Will Ross: Frankly, Kenya was pretty much on the brink of civil war. There was a disputed election at the end of 2007, and the splits along ethnic lines across the country became so dangerous and violent, communities were attacking each other, and it was all about really this election that was bungled. It ended up with the communities picking up machetes, bows and arrows, and taking it out on each other following the dispute. Now, the prominent politicians, including Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the current deputy prime minister, and William Ruto, a former minister, they are accused of being involved in instigating some of this violence, organizing it so that you know, communities at the village level went around carrying out these terrible atrocities that killed well over a thousand people and displaced about half a million.

Mullins: Well, we're used to hearing about election violence in various countries, but I wonder how the violence that happened in Kenya then escalated to the extent that the ICC is issuing these charges of crimes against humanity. How did it get quite so bad?

Ross: Yes, well, Kenya had had a series of fairly violent elections, but the politicians have always tended to just brush that under the carpet once it comes to the results times they're more focused on getting into power and then staying in power. But this time it got so bad four years ago that the only way to stop it was to bring in mediators. And you may remember the former secretary general of the UN, Kofi Annan, was called in and it was his mediation that managed to get the country to calm down, and for the weapons to be put down. And there was an inquiry done by the Kenyans, which produced a list of people accused of instigating the violence, and then Kofi Annan handed that list over to the ICC. I think many of the politicians thought oh, let's just send it off to The Hague; it'll take years, we won't even be around by the time they've gotten around to this case. And to some of the Kenyan politicians' surprise, here we are with four men now about to stand trial at the ICC, although I must add there could be a few delays with appeals.

Mullins: With appeals and also these men are still running for president, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta, by the way, being the son of the founding father of Kenya. I wonder if there is kind of a serious political dynasty that you think is being challenged here by the ICC?

Ross: Well, certainly the rulings from the ICC are sending huge shock waves through the political system here because you know, we've known for some months that these particular men were facing these charges, but now it's confirmed that they are gonna be on trial. It does you know, change things dramatically, but Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are both saying we're still going to run for president, which your listeners may find that extraordinary that you can be heading to the ICC, to The Hague, where you're going to be in the dock facing charges against humanity, including murder, forceable transfer of people, persecution, rape, and at the same time you'll be trying to run around the country saying vote for me, I'm the best leader for the country.

Mullins: If they do face the charges they will have to show up at The Hague. Do Kenyans themselves have the will to extradite these two major political or high-profile political leaders? Is it likely to happen that they ever will show up?

Ross: Well, it'll be interesting to see if they continue to cooperate with the ICC because so far, they've turned out for the pre-trial hearings. Publicly they're both saying we're determined to go and clear our names. And the fact that they've cooperated has meant that they haven't had any warrants of arrest issued. They haven't been locked up in The Hague, they're free here in Kenya. That may change depending how the trial continues. And efforts by the Kenyan government may continue to get the trial delayed. So you've got you know, the Kenyan political elite who for years have built up this culture of impunity. And some Kenyans today think well, maybe this ICC trial is just gonna chip away a little bit of that culture of impunity.

Mullins: All right, thank you. The BBC's Will Ross in Nairobi, Kenya, thanks.

Ross: Pleasure.