, THE HAGUE, Apr 8 – Kenyan Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and two co-defendants appeared before the International Criminal Court on Friday, to face charges of crimes against humanity during deadly post-election violence.
"I welcome you to this hearing," Ekaterina Trendafilova, president of The Hague-based court, told the Kenyan trio.
Kenyatta, son of Kenya\’s founding president 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 1,500 dead.
The Kenyan deputy premier made no comment when he arrived by car at the court headquarters earlier Friday, preceded by co-accused Francis Muthaura, Kibaki\’s right-hand man, and former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali.
They were summoned to appear before a pre-trial chamber to be informed of the charges levelled against them.
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.
Charges against the six include murder, deportation, rape, inhumane acts, persecution and torture.
"An innocent person like me, to be dragged all the way here, is a matter that puzzles me," Ruto, a potential candidate in next year\’s presidential election, told the court Thursday.
"There\’s no reason for us to be here, we\’re innocent people. There\’s no court that tries innocent people," he told reporters after the hearing, before belting out his country\’s national anthem along with some 30 Kenyan lawmakers who came here to back him.
A procedural hearing, which the accused are not required to attend, was set for April 18 while another to confirm the charges against Ruto, Sang and Kosgey was set for September 1.
Kenyatta, Muthaura and Ali will appear for confirmation of charges on September 21.
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 (OMD) 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 bloc."
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 agreements brokered by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to end the post-vote chaos.