East Africa

Uhuru’s co-accused Muthaura cleared by ICC

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The International Criminal Court on Monday dropped all charges against Kenyan civil servant Francis Muthaura, who was accused alongside president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta of crimes against humanity during 2007-2008 post-election violence.

The decision came after a key witness in Muthaura’s case was discredited and ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said other witnesses refused to testify or had died.

It is the first time that ICC prosecutors have dropped a case since the court began operations in 2002.

The trial of both Muthaura and Kenyatta had been due to start in July, but Bensouda said Monday’s decision did not affect Kenyatta, who was declared the winner of Kenya’s March 4 presidential election.

“I have decided, as of the state of evidence available now, that we have no other choice but to withdraw the charges against Mr Muthaura,” Bensouda told The Hague-based court.

Four prominent Kenyans, including Kenyatta, faced charges at the ICC over deadly post-poll violence five years ago during which prosecutors say more than 1,100 people died.

But prosecutors dropped the key witness against Muthaura “after this witness recanted a crucial part of his evidence, and admitted to us that he had accepted bribes,” Bensouda said.

Some witnesses were refusing or unable to provide vital evidence, she added.

“The witnesses that had conveyed evidence have been killed or died, others refuse to speak to the prosecutor,” Bensouda said. “We do not feel there are reasonable chances of a condemnation at the moment of the trial.”

The cases of Kenyatta and Muthaura were postponed last month after a key prosecution witness withdrew a statement, casting doubts on the strength of the prosecution’s case.

But Bensouda said the other Kenyan cases should proceed as planned: “This decision applies only to Mr Muthaura. It does not apply to any other case.”

“While we are all aware of political developments in Kenya, these have no influence, at all, on the decisions that I make as prosecutor of the International Criminal Court,” Bensouda said.

Bensouda lamented a lack of cooperation from the Kenyan government in the case.

She cited “the disappointing fact that the government of Kenya failed to provide my office with important evidence, and failed to facilitate our access to critical witnesses who may have shed light on the Muthaura case”.

The ICC is to hold a hearing on March 18 to listen to arguments for sending the case against Kenyatta back to the confirmation of charges stage, as requested by the defence.

Kenyatta — one of Africa’s richest and most powerful men — and Muthaura were charged with five counts of crimes against humanity for their alleged involvement in fomenting the wave of violence that swept through Kenya in December 2007 and early 2008.

The Kenyan opposition had disputed the outcome of a presidential vote, unleashing the worst unrest in the east African country since independence in 1963.

More than 663,000 people were displaced in Kenya’s Rift Valley after fights between rival supporters, prosecutors said, when politically motivated riots soon turned into ethnic killings, which in turn sparked further reprisals.

The clashes destroyed Kenya’s image as a beacon of stability in the region, hurt its tourism industry and exposed long-simmering ethnic rifts among its population.

Following his victory in Monday’s vote, which some say was helped by the fact that he was charged by the ICC, Kenyatta vowed that he would cooperate “with all nations and international institutions”.

Muthaura, who was in court on Monday, was accused of authorising police use of excessive force against protesters and of having protected youth militia members of the Party of National Unity of the election’s winner, Mwai Kibaki.

He also allegedly took part in meetings during which attacks were planned.


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