, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 23 – Religious organisations, local and international civil society groups have welcomed the confirmation of charges against four Kenyans accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) Secretary General Canon Peter Karanja hailed the decision by the ICC, which he described as “an important step in addressing the culture of impunity which has plagued the country for decades.”
“NCCK appreciates that the Pre-Trial Chamber did not assign guilt or innocence to any of the suspects. But we affirm the significance of the process in breaking impunity in Kenya and getting the country off to a fresh start,” he urged.
Karanja further asked Kenyans to continue observing peace even at the time of trials and also look at the court’s decision as a legal process not targeting any particular community.
Civil Society groups who came together to watch the decision live at a forum hosted by the ICC Outreach Programme Coordinator Maria Kamara at a Nairobi hotel, also expressed their appreciation that at least charges against four suspects had been confirmed a sign that the arm of the law was catching up with impunity.
They were however not happy that former Police Commissioner Maj Gen Hussein Ali’s charges had been rejected; a decision they said was likely to send a wrong signal that the Kenyan police were blameless.
Africa Centre for Open Governance Executive Director Gladwell Otieno said the clearance by the ICC should not in any way mean that police are unblemished but actually require a mechanism of vetting them.
“This is really a great concern. We still have to pursue the absolute root to reform the police force. We hope the message underlying today (Monday) is not that the Kenyan police force is okay. It’s not by a long shot. We need to have thorough vetting; we need to have accountability for the crimes committed by the police,” she asserted.
The civil society groups also strongly advocated for the establishment of a local mechanism to deal with middle level perpetrators some of whom they claim are known to the victims.
They said the ICC’s list of only four accused was thin citing the number of perpetrators who attacked people and destroyed property during the 2008 post election violence.
They were in agreement that it was critical for Kenya to unveil the middle level perpetrators if the country is to bring a closure to the victims who still suffer the open wounds of the violence that left over 1,300 people dead, 500,000 others displaced and property worth billions of shillings destroyed.
Kenya Human Rights Commission Executive Director Atsango Chesoni said: “It is very important for us to have a local mechanism to deal with the lower level perpetrators as we recollect that the ICC was only dealing with the most responsible. Even if we were at the stage of conviction, we still would have a lot of work to do.”
James Gondi a human rights defender associated with Kenyans for Peace, Truth and Justice (KPTJ) shared the same thoughts with Chesoni that the non-confirmation of Ali’s charges was a setback to the victims who died or suffered in the hands of the police.
“That is why we should start discussion of either having a special division of the High Court or a special tribunal alongside the ICC decision,” he suggested.
Njeri Njoroge, who bore the brunt of the post election violence after her family members were attacked in Kisumu, however felt the ICC was not going to bring justice to Kenya as it did not address issues affecting Kenyans.
Njoroge who could not hold her emotions after the court decision wanted the ICC to have more perpetrators subjected to the justice process.
“It was so unfair. The decision did not affect us who are on the ground people, it did not affect other perpetrators we know, because if the other perpetrators continue walking around we are still hurt, we are still bleeding in pain, ICC should have taken more perpetrators,” she said as she emotionally wept.
International Centre for Justice Executive Director George Kegoro urged President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to suspend Uhuru Kenyatta and Francis Muthaura following confirmation of their charges.
“President and Prime Minister should fulfill their obligations to uphold the rule of law and suspend from office Kenyatta and Muthaura in line with Chapter 6 of the Kenyan Constitution and also call upon the suspects to vacate office on their own volition in line with their statements of 15 December 2010 to cooperate with the ICC,” Kegoro said as he also asked them to give the ICC the full cooperation during the process.
Meanwhile, National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia has warned Kenyans against ethnic incitements.
He said the commission will closely continue to monitor all public utterances and anyone who interferes with peace will face the wrath of the law against tribalism and hate speech.
“We urge Kenyans of goodwill not to use the decision of the ICC to settle political scores incite ethnic animosity and or propagate violence,” he said and urged the four accused that they also have to observe conditions of their summonses. “The conditions contained in the summons remain in place in particular, non engagement in incitement to violence and hate speech.”
Amnesty International (AI) referred to the ICC ruling as an important milestone in the search for justice for victims of the post-election violence saying it will provide truth and reparation for those who suffered.
Kenyans on the other hand welcomed the verdict and said that the law should follow its course.