Court on trial as much as defendants

The first prosecution witness, identified by the number 536, began her testimony on Tuesday at the trial of Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Mr. Ruto, the first serving official to appear at the ICC, has been charged with planning and providing logistical support for violent attacks on ethnic communities perceived to be loyal to his political opponents in Kenya’s 2007 general election. Radio journalist Joshua Sang stands accused of fanning the violence by falsely reporting news of attacks on Kalenjin people to incite reprisals against the Kikuyu community.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is also accused of playing a critical role in the post-election violence in which about 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 were displaced. Mr. Kenyatta will stand trial in November; all three men have denied the charges.

In her testimony, witness 536 described an attack in which a Kalenjin mob allegedly set fire to the Kiambaa Church in the rift valley, killing 36 people. The court proceedings were occasionally conducted in private sessions to protect the identity of the witness. Several witnesses have withdrawn from the case.

For many Kenyans and others across Africa, the ICC is as much on trial as the two leaders. The court has convicted only Africans thus far, and while 34 African nations are signatories to the founding Rome Statute, the U.S., China, Israel and India have not signed on. Russia is a signatory but is yet to ratify the accord.

In January next year, the African Union will consider a proposal for all African signatories to withdraw from the ICC on the grounds that the court is targeting Africans. Earlier this month, the Kenyan Parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC, but the final decision rests with Mr. Kenyatta and his deputy.

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