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Kenyans Welcome ICC Probe into Election Violence

Michael Onyego | Nairobi 01 April 2010

Kenyans are applauding Wednesday's decision by the International Criminal Court in The Hague to allow prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed in the wake of the country's disputed 2007 elections. There is hope that justice will finally be served but some fear that the investigation could precipitate more violence.

In a two to one decision, an International Criminal Court pre-trial chamber panel concluded there was reason to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed, given the information presented to them by Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo. The majority vote allowed the prosecutor to proceed with his case.

The decision has been awaited anxiously in Kenya. Many expect Moreno-Ocampo's investigation to culminate a two year search for justice.

Conflict erupted along ethnic lines in Kenya after the December 2007 presidential election met with widespread allegations of fraud. Some 1,300 people were killed and over 300,000 displaced during the crisis.

26-year-old college student Joyce Waraki welcomed the court's decision, which she says will be important for the next presidential election in 2012.

"I welcome the move because justice has to be done. People have to realize some things are not just buried. We have to see that there is justice done for the people that were most affected," she said. "It is going to portray that we are united. Especially this time we are heading to the 2012 general election. I think it is going to work," Waraki said.

The decision was also welcomed by the international community. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the investigation would help restore confidence in Kenya's ability to hold peaceful election.

The Delegation of the European Union to Kenya called it an important step but added that a local tribunal was needed in order to try perpetrators of individual crimes.

Kenyan Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo promised to cooperate with the investigation but said the decision should have come sooner. Kilonzo added that the International Criminal Court was better situated to pursue perpetrators in light of Kenya's failure to establish a local mechanism for justice.

In February of 2008 former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan brokered a peace deal between President Mwai Kibaki and his challenger, Prime Minister Raila Odinga. It was hoped that the unity government formed by the two would purse justice for victims of the violence.

An international commission was established to investigate the cause of the post-election crisis in 2008. The failure of Kenya's government to act on the commission's findings prompted Mr. Annan to present the International Criminal Court with a sealed list of 20 prominent politicians and businessmen which the commission deemed most responsible for the violence.

The list, along with the commission's 500 page report, formed the basis of Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo's request to the International Criminal Court. The prosecutor has not yet made the list public. Nairobi marketing consultant Norman Gombe worries that the release of the names could lead to ethnic fractionalization.

"It is likely that it will cause more conflict and people will take tribal sides to try and get away from the issues," he said. "Kenya is an ethnic country so they're going to split up into ethnic divisions and if one group has more people mentioned than the other then they will say it is against one group and it will be problematic," said Gombe.

The 2007 elections were not the first to be marred by violence. Politics in the East African country have been plagued by tribalism since independence in 1963. Similar periods of unrest followed elections in 1992 and 1997. While many in the country have expressed a desire to move beyond Kenya's ethnic divisions, the 2012 presidential election looms large as a test of national unity.

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