The International Criminal Court on Tuesday ended the trial of Kenya’s deputy president for crimes against humanity, but said new proceedings against William Ruto could be initiated in the future.
Two of the three judges on the case concluded that the prosecution had failed to bring sufficient evidence that Mr. Ruto—along with his co-defendant, former radio commentator Joshua Sang—had incited murder, forced deportation and persecution during the violence that followed disputed elections in 2007. However, they also declined a defense motion to acquit the two men of the charges.
The decision, which can still be appealed, is a blow to the ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who in 2014 had to drop similar charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. It also raises questions over whether the court, established in 1998, can fulfill its stated purpose of bringing to justice even the most powerful. Mr. Ruto was the most senior sitting politician currently on trial at the The Hague, Netherlands, court.
Like the case against Mr. Kenyatta, the trial of Messrs. Ruto and Sang had been marred by what the prosecution and some of the judges said was tampering with evidence and witnesses by Kenyan authorities.
“It cannot be discounted that the weaknesses in the prosecution case might be explained by the demonstrated incidence of tainting of the trial process by way of witness interference and political meddling that was reasonably likely to intimidate witnesses,” said Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, one of the two judges who opted to terminate the proceedings. The third judge on the case said the trial should continue.
In February, appeals judges at the court threw out earlier testimony of several key prosecution witnesses who later recanted their statements or disappeared. The ICC has issued warrants for three men who allegedly influenced witnesses for its investigation in Kenya.
“Given that the Kenyan government has failed to pursue prosecutions in Kenya, the end of this case leaves victims bereft of justice and the help they need,” said Elizabeth Evenson, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The Ruto trial will likely be remembered for the reported efforts to corrupt witnesses.”
Mr. Kenyatta said in a statement published in local media that the decision reaffirmed his “strong conviction from the beginning about the innocence of my deputy president.” He also said that the ruling would bring to an end to the “nightmare” that the ICC cases have been for the nation.
Messrs. Ruto and Sang had pleaded not guilty when the trial opened in September 2013.
Weekslong clashes following Kenya’s presidential elections in December 2007 left more than 1,000 people dead, among them many women and children, and forced more than 600,000 to leave their homes. Thousands remain displaced, dealing with the trauma of violence and abuse without much assistance from the Kenyan government.
At the time of the 2007 election, Messrs. Ruto and Kenyatta were supporting opposite parties. But they were elected on a joint ticket in the spring of 2013, just months before the trial against Mr. Ruto began.
The two leaders have been at the forefront of African opposition to the ICC, claiming the court was unjustly focused on pursuing cases on the continent. All but one of the court’s formal investigations involve alleged crimes in African countries.
Last year, Kenyan politicians who wanted the case thrown out started holding large “prayer rallies” in support of Messrs. Ruto and Sang that often included criticism of the court. In recent months, the government camp has become quieter, though some parliamentarians and a governor have called for more prayers for the case to be dismissed.
Wall Street Journal.