Kenya‘s prime minister, Raila Odinga, said his government “will not shield or protect” senior officials if they are indicted by the international criminal court for crimes against humanity committed during last year’s post-election violence.In an interview with the Guardian, Odinga voiced support for the Hague-based court whose prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said last week he would pursue a unilateral investigation into the 2008 bloodletting in which at least 1,133 people were killed.
The main suspects include several cabinet ministers, including some from Odinga’s party, who are accused of organising and financing ethnic-based attacks.Odinga’s remarks describing himself as holding “identical” views to Ocampo on the urgent need for justice to prevent future politically-inspired violence put him at odds with powerful ministers on both sides of the coalition, who are desperately seeking to derail the international process.
When parliament reopens they are expected to try to push through a bill creating a special local tribunal, in an attempt to weaken Ocampo’s case when he requests authorisation next month from the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to proceed with investigations. After meeting Ocampo in Nairobi last week, Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, the president, whose widely discredited election win kicked off the violence, released a statement saying they would co-operate with the court. But Odinga has gone further.
“We said that we will not shield or protect people found to have committed crimes against humanity,” he said. “That is what we told Ocampo.”
The ICC’s intervention is a tricky issue for both Kenyan leaders, who want to avoid alienating allies in their respective parties named by the government-funded Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights for allegedly orchestrating the violence. In Odinga’s case, it is ministers from the Rift valley region, who offered crucial election support to his Orange Democratic Movement party, who have the most to fear. The area saw the worst of the violence, as Kalenjin gangs attacked Kikuyu civilians from Kibaki’s party.
Some of the most senior Kalenjin MPs say the Rift valley bloodshed was a spontaneous reaction by Odinga supporters, who thought he had been cheated of victory. But Odinga rejected this, pointing to similar ethnic attacks around elections in the 1990s.”There had been conflict and clashes in some parts of the Rift Valley even before the election. During campaigns, there were fires [attacks] in Molo and Burnt Forest and so on. These were things that had nothing to do with the post-election protests. .. They need to be separated [from genuine protests],” he said. In Kibaki’s party, panic over Ocampo’s move is strongest among some senior MPs from his home region in Central province, who are accused of sponsoring Kikuyu gangs to attack opposition supporters. As part of a peace deal last year, Kibaki and Odinga agreed to establish a local tribunal to try those responsible for the violence. But when they presented a bill to parliament to facilitate this it was rejected.
The legislation was weak, human rights activists say, and Odinga said some MPs – and most Kenyans – had serious concerns that a domestic court would not be independent. But he said politicians involved in the violence had also helped to quash the bill, fearing that a local tribunal would move faster then the ICC.”They thought it would take 50 years before it [the ICC] reached the Kenyan trial. To them the ICC was like a parking place – put it [the case] there and park it there,” he said.Ocampo has said he will seek to bring cases against two to four people, perhaps as soon as next year, in order to prevent further violence during the next election. His decision to move quickly is broadly supported among Kenyans fed up with decades of high-level impunity. Odinga said he shared the concern about further violence in 2012, when he is almost certain to run for president again.
“My position is informed by what we have been through since the introduction of multipartyism … We had these clashes in 1992, then again in 1997 and 2002. This is happening because nothing has been done to stop it. My position is identical to that of Mr Ocampo,” he said.He said the police needed to be held to account for supporting the Kikuyu militias, but refused to be drawn on whether any of his party leaders might eventually be indicted by the ICC.”The mere fact that names have been floated is not sufficient evidence that people are culpable,” he said.
Civil society groups have criticised Odinga and Kibaki for refusing Ocampo’s request to grant him permission to investigate, which would have avoided the prosecutor have to seeking authority from the pre-trial chamber. But Odinga said that granting a referral would have been tantamount to admitting Kenya was a failed state. He insisted that lower-level perpetrators could still face justice domestically.”We told him [Ocampo] that we have not given up on the local process and have embarked on a very major reform of the judiciary and the police to try the bulk of the culprits locally.”