NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya's parliament on Thursday passed a motion to withdraw from the International Criminal Court just before the country's president and deputy president face trial at The Hague for allegedly orchestrating postelection violence more than five years ago.
Citing the fact that the United States and other world powers are not members, the majority leader of Kenya's parliament on Thursday argued that Kenya should withdraw from the statute that created the ICC.
Adan Duale told a special session of Kenya's parliament that U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both argued against the United States becoming a party to the Rome Statute, which regulates prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
A voice vote on the motion easily passed after members of the opposition party walked out, but Kenya can only withdraw from the ICC by formal notification to the United Nations Secretary-General by the government, not parliament.
Clinton and Bush, Duale said, refused to join the ICC in order to protect U.S. citizens and soldiers from potential politically-motivated prosecutions.
"Let us protect our citizens. Let us defend the sovereignty of the nation of Kenya," Duale said.
The Kenyan debate is a reaction to the start next week of the trial at The Hague of Deputy President William Ruto. Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta face charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly helping to orchestrate postelection violence in 2007-08 in which more than 1,000 people were killed.
Kenyatta, who was elected president earlier this year, faces trial in November. Both leaders have said they will cooperate with the court.
Parliament has voted to withdraw before, but the executive branch took no action. The Rome Statute says a "state party" may withdraw with written notification to the U.N.'s secretary-general; withdrawal takes effect one year later.
A withdrawal does not affect a state's obligation to cooperate with criminal investigations and proceedings already underway. If Kenya were to withdraw, it would be the first nation to do so.
"Kenya gains no legal advantage by withdrawing from the ICC," said William Pace and official with the Coalition for the ICC. "In the long run, the promoters of this action are hurting the reputation of Kenya as a nation that supports international human rights and the rule of law."
Kenyatta's and Ruto's indictments led the U.S. and European powers like the U.K. to openly advocate for the two leaders' electoral defeat. When the two were declared the winners in March's election with 50.03 percent of the vote, both countries gave only lukewarm congratulations. However, U.S. and U.K. relations with Kenya since then have appeared to be at least quasi-normal, though when President Barack Obama embarked on a tour of Africa in June and July he did not visit Kenya, his father's home country.
The International Criminal Court has only indicted Africans, a fact that has opened the court to severe criticism on the continent. The chairman of the African Union earlier this year said that ICC prosecutions "have degenerated into some kind of race hunt."
The ICC stepped in to investigate Kenya's postelection violence after the country failed to prosecute any of the organizers of the attacks. Kenya suffered three months of ethnic attacks with machetes and guns in running battles that severely harmed the country's reputation as a stable democracy and a safe tourist destination.
Elizabeth Evenson, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Belgium, said every time the ICC process moves forward, Kenya's political establishment "scrambles to throw up roadblocks. ... Today's debate is more of the same."