Big Mama and the Massacre: ICC’s Reputation at Risk in Kenya

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Erich Follath, July 26, 2013 (Photo GalleryTranslated from the German by Christopher Sultan).

Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, is doing all she can to put Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta behind bars. But the hurdles are high, and failure could spell doom for the dream of global justice … //

… Holding Commanders Responsible? … //

… A Symbol of Progress: … //

… Misplaced Optimism? … //

Divided by Hate:

  • Before long, villages were fighting villages. In some “mixed” regions, it was street against street. It was only through the intervention of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that the situation settled down after a few weeks. But by the time the slaughter had ended, there were 1,100 dead with more than half a million people having been driven out of their home provinces. The country was divided by hate.
  • At the urging of a Kenyan judge, the ICC turned its attention to the instigators of the violence. In early 2012, the court in The Hague confirmed charges against Kenyatta and Ruto, his rival from the Kalenjin tribe. But can someone be locked up for this indirect form of culpability? And can prosecutors in the Netherlands prevail against men who are sufficiently cunning and unscrupulous to exploit racial hatred? In other words, can these crimes even be defined in legal terms? That is the existential question the ICC faces.
  • When it became clear that the two men were to be dragged before the world court, Kenyatta and Ruto devised a clever strategy: They joined forces to form a political alliance of convenience, the Jubilee Alliance. Before long, without any aspects of the 2012 massacres having been cleared up, they began campaigning for election together.
  • For much of the campaign, it looked as they had little chance, with Odinga — the opposing candidate and a member of the Luo tribe — maintaining a solid lead. But then Johnnie Carson, head of the Africa division in the US State Department at the time, publicly threatened “consequences” if the Kenyans voted the two men, who had been indicted by the ICC, into the country’s highest offices.
  • The threat provided Kenyatta with fodder for his campaign. From then on, whenever he made a campaign appearance he would ask his “sovereign people” whether they should allow foreign powers to dictate to them their choice of national leaders. Kenyatta turned the election into a fight against foreign intervention and the “Western diktat.” The overwhelming majority of Kenyans were unaware of the ironic fact that a London PR firm had developed the campaign strategy for Kenyatta — and that British lawyers make up the bulk of his defense team for the ICC trial.

A Deaf Ear:

  • Kenyatta won an absolute majority, with 50.07 percent of the vote. Observers noted that voter turnout was implausibly high, at 86 percent. Rival candidate Odinga suspected fraud and took his case to the country’s supreme court, but it turned a deaf ear to his petition challenging the election results.
  • Of course, the West failed to make good on its threats to impose sanctions. Kenya’s cooperation as a strategically important country in the fight against terrorism in Somalia and Sudan is too important to Washington, Paris and London, and they are also eager to prevent China from trumping the West in Nairobi. The new president has been self-confident recently, saying that he would cooperate with the ICC, submit to questioning by video link and, if necessary, even appear in person before the court in The Hague. His supporters refer to him as “Njamba,” or “The Hero.”
  • In The Hague, his adversary Bensouda says: “We want the trial to begin as soon as possible. And we deeply appreciate the witnesses’ courage and willingness to make sacrifices. Nowhere else have they come under such great pressure as in Kenya.”
  • Many witnesses live in the Great Rift Valley. The steep cliffs, which divide East Africa into two parts, open to form a kind of Garden of Eden, a landscape of volcanic cones, misty lakes and tropical vegetation that offers a habitat to rhinos, flamingos and myriad other forms of wildlife. Anthropologists see the region as a cradle of mankind. But in the first days of 2008, it was more of an Armageddon to residents in the Rift Valley towns of Nakuru and Naivasha.

A Raging Mob

  • “We lived here in peace and good neighborly relations with the other tribes for a long time. We rented our house from a Kikuyu,” says Monicah Akinyi, a Luo woman. Her eyes are dull, rendered lifeless by sadness and desperation. “Then came the day when a raging mob of Kikuyu descended upon us with knives and machetes.”
  • “I was pregnant at the time, awaiting our ninth child,” says Akinyi, her voice faltering. “My husband and I worked at one of the big farms that grow roses for export to Europe. Our children played with the Kikuyu children.” As the menacing mob approached, Akinyi took the children and fled to the police station. Her husband tried to help some friends and rushed back to the house. But he didn’t get far before assailants swooped down on him with knives, dozens of them stabbing him again and again.
  • The mob raged for days. Akinyi wasn’t even able to recover her husband’s body. She was left with nothing but a photo a journalist had taken of her husband’s corpse. She later learned that similar acts of brutal violence had occurred in other Rift Valley towns, as well as along the coast. Who were the culprits? Can the chain of command in what were clearly actions controlled by others be traced to Kikuyu leader Kenyatta?
  • “Today I only live for my children,” says Akinyi, who looks much older than her 37 years. She was pleased when she heard that a woman in a faraway country wanted to bring the culprits to trial. But now she no longer dares to hope. “It all happened more than five years ago,” says Akinyi. “I think the world has forgotten ordinary victims like us.”

(full long text).

Links:

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda ICTR (French: Tribunal pénal international pour le Rwanda, TPIR) on en.wikipedia;

Fatou Bensouda on ICTR / TPIR.

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