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Kenya's President Faces Landmark Hearing At The Hague


Many former heads of state have ended up on trial for past crimes, but this has never happened before...


A current head of state has appeared before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. He is President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.

INSKEEP: He stepped into a court designed so that powerful people like him could be tried in a justice system beyond their influence. The ICC hearing is going on right now. Our East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner is monitoring this situation from Nairobi, Kenya. Hi, Gregory.


INSKEEP: So what's been happening today?

WARNER: Well, I'm standing on a balcony right now. You can hear maybe birds in the background. Like everybody else in Nairobi, I'm watching this on TV, and there are people in Nairobi who've been waiting for this moment for almost seven years. Remember it's been seven years since the violence that followed the 2007 presidential election that left more than a thousand people dead, hundreds of thousands the victim of arson or rape. Now one of the men accused, not of committing, but of orchestrating and funding that violence is sitting in court in The Hague. As you mentioned, that man, Uhuru Kenyatta, is also the democratically elected president of the country and the richest man in Kenya. So there's a lot of anxiety, a lot of tension here in Nairobi right now.

INSKEEP: So these were crimes that took place in 2007 and in 2008, quite some time ago. Why has it taken so long to reach this dramatic moment?

WARNER: Well, this is one thing that both sides can actually agree on, that the case against Kenyatta is still very weak - now why? Well, witnesses have been dropping out. The prosecution says witnesses have been bribed, intimidated, sometimes murdered by Kenyan authorities. Hard evidence, like phone records, bank records, things that would show that connection between - with the orchestration of violence have not been provided by Kenya's president or his government. So today what's happening is the prosecution is actually kind of throwing up its hands. It's asking for an indefinite adjournment, essentially saying it can't proceed with this case without cooperation from Kenya's government and cooperation that apparently can't happen while the accused occupies the presidential seat.

INSKEEP: Now, this is very interesting, Gregory Warner, because maybe we're getting a hint as to why President Kenyatta submitted himself for this prosecution. He seems to be in a situation where they would have difficulty doing very much to him.

WARNER: Absolutely. The president's lawyer is very confident in the hearings right now. He's arguing something called undue delay that this case is dragged on long enough and is by admission - by admission of the prosecution - too weak to continue and should be thrown out. And it's a really incredible moment not only for President Kenyatta, but for the ICC itself for this brand of justice because remember this court began in 2002 with great fanfare, great expense, too, as an independent body with its own prosecutor established by an international treaty, a successor to Nuremberg to, as you mentioned, hold accountable those too rich, too powerful to be tried in their own country.

Over the last decade, what has happened? The court has only secured a couple of convictions of Congolese warlords. In this case, the court is powerless to get Kenya's president to hand over his phone records, and it seems frankly to have stopped trying. So while this court may have a lot of legal authority, it hasn't had much political muscle, and it's certainly an indictment of future successors to the Nuremberg court.

INSKEEP: Gregory, thanks. That's NPR's Gregory Warner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Warner