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ICC says Kenya president can skip parts of trial

October 18, 2013

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Kenya’s president can stay at home to carry out his duties as head of state for large parts of his crimes against humanity trial, judges at the International Criminal Court ruled Friday.

The decision came less than a week after the African Union said it will not allow a sitting head of state to be prosecuted by an international tribunal.

Kenyan opposition to the trial of President Uhuru Kenyatta has gained traction in the weeks since the deadly terror attack on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall, which underscored the importance of the country in the war on terror in eastern Africa.

Kenyatta is due to go on trial in The Hague from Nov. 12 on charges of orchestrating deadly violence in the aftermath of his country’s 2007 elections. He insists he is innocent.

A majority of the judges hearing the case said in a written ruling that Kenyatta has to be present for opening and closing statements, hearings where victims “present their views and concerns in person,” the verdict, and “any other attendance ordered by the chamber.”

If convicted, he also would have to attend sentencing hearings and hearings at which victims explain the impact on their lives of the crimes and judges discuss reparations.

Kenyatta has pledged to cooperate with the court and has always attended hearings when called upon by judges, but privately members of his government have said they don’t believe he will report to The Hague.

While a decision excusing Kenyatta from attending much of his trial is a victory for the president, he still wants to avoid standing trial at all.

His lawyers last week called for a permanent halt to the case, arguing that “the prosecution is presiding over an utterly corrupt and dishonest case” based on false witness testimony.

There was no immediate reaction from prosecutors to Friday’s ruling, but they can appeal.

Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, and a broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang, also are on trial in a separate case dealing with the postelection violence that left more than 1,000 people dead in late 2007 and early 2008. Judges made a similar ruling allowing Ruto to miss most of his trial, but prosecutors appealed the decision and he has to attend his trial pending a decision by the court’s appeals chamber.

Ruto has complied and flown to The Hague whenever his trial is in session, but speaking to reporters this week he sounded like his patience was running out.

Ruto said Kenya has asked the U.N. Security Council to defer the International Criminal Court cases against him and Kenyatta for a year, but Ruto said he would rather his trial go ahead if he doesn’t have to attend hearings in The Hague.

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