The International Criminal Court's move to go into the 2007-08 post-poll violence in the Republic of Kenya, after a pre-trial Chamber decided that the incidents are indeed crimes against humanity, is a unique attempt to try offenders who systematically undermine democratic institutions. There have been recurrent controversies about the quality of elections and the verdict, warranting the deployment of international monitors and observers to oversee the process. There have also been inordinate delays in determining the verdict and in forming new governments. Not surprisingly, this has led to a growing demand for international adjudication of such disputes, especially in countries where the writ of dictators, warlords or tribal chieftains runs. In Kenya, bloody ethnic clashes broke out in the wake of the 2007 elections, leaving more than 1,000 people dead. On the indefensible failure of the ruling coalition to set up a tribunal, the Chamber at The Hague Court concluded that the ICC must step in and investigate. The ICC's mandate is to bring to justice individuals rather than groups or governments for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Accordingly, its Prosecutor has identified 20 persons from among senior politicians and the police as being mainly responsible for rape, murder, and such other heinous crimes.

What applies to Kenya must apply to other countries as well. The refusal of the United States and India, in particular, to be bound by the jurisdiction of the ICC, which was established under the Rome Statute, takes away from its legitimacy and moral authority. A timely review of their negative stance could contribute to the evolution of a more effective multilateral order based on the rule of law. Political stability underpinned by respect for human rights and transparent governance is a vital prerequisite if countries such as Kenya are to capitalise on their rich natural resource base to lift millions of people out of chronic hunger, poverty, and disease. Else, the African continent's claim on the 21st century as its own will seem yet another cynical slogan mocking at the plight of ordinary citizens. Justice deserves a chance; but its prospects, particularly against the backdrop of the most appalling anti-people crimes, must not be left to chance.

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