The International Criminal Court on Friday overturned a decision excusing Kenya’s deputy president from attending his trial on charges of orchestrating deadly violence after his country’s 2007 election.
The decision by appeals judges means William Ruto must in principle appear at his trial, but can still be excused on a “case by case” basis.
“The presence of the accused must remain the general rule,” said court President, Judge Sang-hyun Song.
The ruling could deepen a rift between the court and African leaders who accuse it of unfairly targeting their continent. It could also set a precedent for Kenya’s president, whose trial on similar charges is scheduled to start next month.
The African Union earlier this month said it wanted the United Nations Security Council to defer the Kenya trials at the ICC for a year. The Hague-based court has only indicted Africans in more than a decade of operation.
In June, judges said Mr Ruto could skip most of his trial so that he could exercise his duties as deputy of head of state. Prosecutors appealed and Mr Ruto has, so far, attended much of his case.
The five-judge appeals panel acknowledged that trial judges have the power to excuse a defendant, but “interpreted the scope of its discretion too broadly” in giving Mr Ruto what amounted to “a blanket excusal” from his trial, Sang said.