, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 15 – International Criminal Court (ICC) trials against Deputy President William Ruto and Joshua arap Sang will open at The Hague on September 10 this year.
This was after ICC judges turned down a request by the two to have the opening session held in Kenya or Tanzania.
“The judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have decided, in a plenary session, that the commencement of the trial against William Samoei Ruto and Joshua arap Sang will take place at the seat of the court in The Hague, Netherlands, rejecting the joint defence request to hold hearings in Kenya or in Tanzania,” the ICC’s Public Affairs Unit said.
The judges made several considerations which included the high costs that the court would have to incur if the trials were not heard at Hague-based court.
They also factored in the security of victims and witnesses which has been a concern raised by victims and the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP) as much as they were paying attention to the principal of bringing the trials closer home as possible.
The court further considered the impression it will create if the trials (opening statements) are heard in Kenya or Tanzania.
“They reached this conclusion after taking into consideration numerous factors, such as security, the cost of holding proceedings outside The Hague, the potential impact on victims and witnesses and on proceedings in The Hague, as well as the length of the proceedings to be held away from the seat of the court and the potential impact on the perception of the court,” the statement said.
In the ruling, the judges also said Ruto will be required to be physically present during the opening statements of parties to the case. This decision was also pronounced when the judges allowed Ruto to skip sessions of the hearings.
Even though there are some judges who were in favour of the opening session of the trials being heard in Arusha or Kenya, there was no two thirds majority required to change the seat of the court. “After carefully considering the arguments both in favour of and against holding the opening statements in the case in Nairobi or Arusha, the judges did not reach the required two-thirds majority necessary for a decision to change the seat of the court.”
Ruto and Sang in January 2013 made a joint application asking the court to have their trial moved from The Hague to Kenya or Tanzania.
The same request was also made by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s defence team.
Defence teams in the two cases argued that having the trials in Kenya or Tanzania would bring the cases closer home and also cut down travel costs.
The Victims’ Legal Representative in the Ruto-Sang case, Wilfred Nderitu, also supported the idea even though over 80 percent of the victims he represented were in favour of the trials being heard in The Hague.
He said having the trials heard in Kenya or Tanzania “was important to have some ownership of the process which would trickle down to more representative participation of the victims.”
He also said it would help build regional institutions especially improving criminal justice systems.
The OTP was opposed to the trials being heard outside The Hague and raised concerns over the security of witnesses.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda explained; “The prosecution’s concern is that the attempts to interfere with trial witnesses would increase if the trials were held in Kenya and to a lesser extent, in Arusha, Tanzania where the accused have significant influence, where the public interest in the trial is extremely high and where the court has not infrastructures in place to ensure the security of trial witnesses.”
The registry had suggested that trials could only be heard up to a maximum of one month at the International Court Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha.
“With regards to the observations provided above, the registry respectfully submits that there are no technical obstacles to put in place the necessary requirements for any in situ case scenario in Arusha, as the existing facilities allow for a similar level of provision as provided by the ICC, except for having protected witnesses testifying in public session with voice and facial distortion,” Silvana Arbia said in her application in February.
The trial of President Kenyatta is scheduled for November 2013.