September 10, 2013 (The HAGUE) - Kenyan vice-president William Samoei Ruto and journalist Joshua Arap Sang on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity, as their trial kicked off at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.
- Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto (2nd L) bids farewell to government officials as he leaves Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi, on his way to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, September 9, 2013. (Reuters)
Ruto and Sang are accused of murder, forcible population transfer and persecution, during the 2007-2008 disputed Kenyan elections.
Then Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the ballot, which his main challenger, Raila Odinga, claimed was rigged.
The violence that followed the electoral dispute led to the death of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of some 600,000.
Ruto and Kenya’s current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, were supporting rival candidates at the time.
The two men were subsequently charged by the ICC for allegedly orchestrating the violence.
Ruto becomes the first serving public official to be charged in the court.
Uhuru is due to appear before the same court in November.
Tuesday’s trial opened with the reading of the charges against Ruto and Sang.
The hearing will resume on Wednesday, with Sang’s defence counsel, Joseph Kipchumba Kigen-Katwa, expected to give his opening statement to the court.
In a statement, the ICC said Ruto and Sang’s trial is expected to take several months, during which the prosecutor will submit evidence to support the charges.
“During the first part [of the hearing], the office of the prosecutor will be presenting the evidence at the prosecution’s disposal, submitting to the attention of the judges a large number of documents which it has compiled in the case, as well as video footage”, the ICC said in the statement released on Tuesday.
“The Prosecution will also call witnesses to testify. When the prosecution has finished examining each witness, the defence counsel is given the opportunity to cross-examine the witness”, the statement adds.
The ICC said the hearing process will be free and fair and will be conducted in full respect of the rights of the defence lawyers and with due regard for the protection of victims and witnesses.
The court has come under increasing criticism by African leaders who accuse it of targeting African leaders.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International welcomed Ruto and Sang’s trial saying it was an important step in achieving justice for victims of the post-election violence.
HRW has also criticised the Kenyan parliament for voting to pull out of the ICC.
The decision will not affect the current trials in progress, however, the move has raised serious questions about Kenya’s commitment to the process.
The ICC was established in 2002 to try those accused of heinous crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.