By Thomas Escritt
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Officials of the International Criminal Court warned member states not to compromise judicial independence as Kenya began a renewed diplomatic push against charges faced by its deputy president.
Ahead of this week's ICC general assembly meeting, Kenya is rallying its African allies in support of rule changes that would disbar much of the evidence prosecutors are relying on to convict Deputy President William Ruto over post-election violence that killed 1,200 people.
The dispute risks driving a wedge between the European countries that largely finance the court and Africa, which provides a third of its members.
In a letter published on Monday by the website Journalists for Justice and confirmed genuine by the court, the court's president, prosecutor and registrar said member states risked compromising the court's integrity.
"States parties (must) robustly continue to safeguard the independence of the ICC's judicial process," they wrote in a letter to the assembly's president.
The warning comes amid escalating tensions between Africa and the permanent global war crimes court, with leading members contemplating leaving the body.
Judges this year withdrew charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who, like Ruto, was accused of stoking ethnic violence after the 2007 presidential election. This week, Kenyatta said he was "tired" of the ICC's "interference" in Kenya's internal affairs.
South Africa, under fire from the court for failing to detain and extradite Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a war crimes suspect, when he was in the country, was urged by its ruling party to leave the court.
Prosecutors have blamed their failure to put Kenyatta on trial on political interference and interference with witnesses, especially after Kenyatta was elected president in 2013. Their withdrawal weakened the prosecution case.
"In 2014, information suggested that, for the first time, a (prosecution) witness was likely targeted and killed due to his interaction with the court," prosecutors said in a report published on Monday, without indicating which case the witness was linked to.
Judges have allowed prosecutors to use statements from withdrawn witnesses as evidence against Ruto. Kenya wants member states to tell judges they were wrong to do so.
Kenya says the court case against Ruto risks rekindling ethic tensions.
"The ICC represents an existential threat to Kenya ... its peace and security," said Korir Sing'Oei, a legal adviser to Ruto, adding if member states refused to rein in judges it would "show that the Assembly is a tool of just a few states."
Despite complaints in Africa about being singled out by the court, the ICC is expanding its activities outside the continent, with investigations launched this year in Gaza, Georgia and Ukraine.
(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Janet Lawrence)