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Kenyans Welcome ICC Decision on Post-Election Violence

By Alan Boswell
30 September 2009

Kenyans are expressing appreciation for the decision by the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor to go after the major suspects of post-election political violence, while working with Kenya on creating local solutions at the same time. The ICC prosecutor announced his move to intervene after the nation missed its September 30 deadline.

The move by the ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to announce its decision to open cases against senior Kenyan officials did not come as much of a surprise to the nation's residents, as Kenya's justice minister announced recently that he would not bother asking Ocampo for another extension.

Most Kenyans have been openly rooting for The Hague's intervention, as few trust the Kenyan government to take real action against its fellow political elites. The nation has a long history of near-complete impunity for illegal actions taken by its most powerful individuals.

Ocampo's statement lays out a three-step strategy for dealing with the post-election violence suspects. Besides going after the high-level officials unlikely to ever receive justice back home, the ICC will also continue to pressure Kenya's government to create a special court of its own to try the rest of those suspected of leading the violence.

The international court will also support a so-called Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Committee modeled after the similarly-named post-apartheid South African body that is supposed to address the underlying issues behind the nation's ethnic tension.

According to Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights Vice-Chairman Hassan Omar, the multi-pronged approach proposed by the powerful prosecutor is good fit for a nation that needs not just justice, but a supporting hand in building the local capacity to manage its own affairs in the future.

"The whole country in Kenya, first and foremost, is running against impunity, and therefore we need to strengthen our own internal mechanisms," said Hassan Omar. "There are also international systems and mechanisms that do not allow people to circumvent the law, especially after committing some of the most heinous crimes."

Kenyan international law lecturer Gideon Maina sees hope in Ocampo's nuanced approach, which he says confirms Kenya has taken a place of key symbolic importance in the eyes of the international community.

"I think the most important point to note is the last sentence [of the first paragraph of Ocampo's statement]," said Gideon Maina. "I think that is where the details are, that "Kenya will be a world example in managing violence."

Analysts say Ocampo is carefully handling the Kenyan situation to avoid further enflaming a common negative perception of the ICC among African leaders and academics. Many have complained the prosecutor is unfairly targeting African crimes, while avoiding prosecutions in more politically powerful regions.

After Kenya's disputed December 2007 elections, the country fell into weeks of violent fighting between ethnic groups viewed as supporting opposing candidates. Some of Kenya's politicians have been accused of helping organize and fund the violence.

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who mediated the end of hostilities that ended in Kenya's compromise coalition government, shocked the nation's leaders by unexpectedly turning over a list of violence suspects to Ocampo in July.

Two senior government ministers are widely named around the country as being the two highest suspects in the envelope handed over to the ICC.

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