, THE HAGUE, April 9 – Kenya\’s Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta denied charges of crimes against humanity during deadly post-election violence after appearing with two co-defendants before the International Criminal Court Friday.
Kenyatta, son of Kenya\’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, is the highest ranking Kenyan official targeted by the ICC in connection with the violence in the months following President Mwai Kibaki\’s contested re-election in December 2007 that left some 1,200 dead.
He appeared in a pre-trial hearing with Francis Muthaura, Kibaki\’s right-hand man, and Mohammed Hussein Ali, the chief of police at the time of the violence pitting supporters of Kibaki against those of his rival Raila Odinga.
On Thursday, Kenya\’s former higher education minister William Ruto, former industry minister Henry Kosgey and radio presenter Joshua Arap Sang appeared in the same court.
Kenyatta, Muthaura and Ali are linked to Kibaki, while Ruto, Kosgey and Sang are supporters of Odinga, who was made prime minister in a deal to end the violence brokered by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.
Charges against the six include murder, deportation, rape, inhumane acts, persecution and torture.
The Hague-based court president Ekaterina Trendafilova welcomed Kenyatta and the others Friday but warned them that the ICC would not hesitate to issue arrest warrants instead of simple summonses if it suspected them of further crimes.
"It came to the knowledge of the chamber that there were movements towards retriggering violence in Kenya by way of delivering speeches," she said at the hearing to inform them of the charges against them.
Kenyatta told journalists afterwards, "Not only Kenyans but the whole world will know where the truth is, and the truth is that we\’re innocent."
"When you\’re innocent, there\’s nothing to worry about," he added.
Ruto, like Kenyatta a potential candidate in next year\’s presidential election, also said Thursday, "There\’s no reason for us to be here, we\’re innocent people."
A procedural hearing, which the accused are not required to attend, has been set for April 18 while another to confirm the charges was set for September 1.
Issuing summonses for the men in March, the ICC said there were reasonable grounds to believe that the Kenyatta group was responsible for attacks against supporters of Odinga\’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) with a view to keeping Kibaki\’s Party for National Unity (PNU) in power.
The group of Ruto, Kosgey and Sang, on the other hand, were believed to have been part of a plan "targeting members of the civilian population supporting the PNU, in order to punish them and evict them from the Rift Valley with the ultimate goal of gaining power and creating a uniform ODM voting block."
The men have said they would cooperate with the court to prove their innocence.
Kenya was plunged into violence after the December 27, 2007 general elections in which then opposition chief Odinga accused Kibaki of having rigged his re-election.
What began as political riots soon turned into ethnic killings targeting Kibaki\’s Kikuyu tribe.
They launched reprisal attacks in which homes were torched and people hacked to death in the country\’s worst violence since independence in 1963.
Before any trial can take place, judges of the ICC must confirm charges against the six men, a process Vukasinovic said "may take several months".
Kenya has filed an application for the court to declare the two cases inadmissible, saying the country was competent to handle the prosecution itself.
The ICC, the world\’s only independent, permanent tribunal for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, can only prosecute if a state is unwilling or unable to do so.
The court took charge of the case after Nairobi failed to set up a tribunal of its own in line with the agreements brokered by Annan.