International Court Ends Case Against Kenyan President in Election Unrest


The International Criminal Court in The Hague announced on Friday that its chief prosecutor had withdrawn charges of crimes against humanity against President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, ending a tortuous case that showed the limits of the court’s power.

The collapse of the case, which has been seen as a test of the court’s ability to pursue charges against a sitting leader, came after the prosecution could not show it had sufficient evidence to proceed. Prosecutors had long accused the Kenyan government of trying to outmaneuver the court by creating an atmosphere of fear that included harassing potential witnesses and threatening others who then refused to testify.

The three international judges hearing the case ruled this week that the Nairobi government had acted “not in good faith” by withholding vital evidence.

The announcement came in a court filing in which the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said that, because the court had denied her more time, her office was withdrawing the charges. “The evidence has not improved to such an extent that Mr. Kenyatta’s responsibility can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” Ms. Bensouda said.

But Ms. Bensouda said she had the right to bring new charges if more evidence was found.

Mr. Kenyatta, the first sitting president to appear before the court, had been accused of helping to orchestrate and finance a wave of ethnic violence after disputed elections in 2007, in which more than 1,200 people died and 600,000 fled their homes. He has always denied the charges.

The decision to end the case appeared to represent both a triumph for Mr. Kenyatta and a display of the difficulty in prosecuting leaders who control the arms of government. Mr. Kenyatta, who was elected in 2013, was named as a suspect in 2010.

The start of his trial had been postponed five times.

On Wednesday, the three judges gave the prosecutor a week to decide whether to proceed or drop the case. But they declined to terminate the case themselves or enter a ruling of not guilty, as sought by the defense.

Maina Kiai, a prominent Kenyan human right activist, said the Kenyan government “has been playing a game of smoke and mirrors, pretending to cooperate with the court, but it stymied the case and played hardball against the court from the beginning.”

Fergal Gaynor, a lawyer for the victims, said the decision would “disappoint the estimated 20,000 victims of the crimes.”

“Their quest for justice has now been frustrated, both in Kenya and at the I.C.C.,” he said.

After the decision was announced, celebrations erupted in Kenya, especially areas populated by the Kikuyu, Mr. Kenyatta’s people. Crowds sang and danced in downtown Nairobi, the capital, and in Nyahururu, a Kikuyu town in the north, hundreds of celebrants blocked the main highway.

Peter Kariuki, chairman of a displaced-persons camp in Nyahururu, said: “We are thankful to God, as our president is now free.”

The events at the core of the case were horrific.

The victims he represents, Mr. Gaynor said, “were among the tens of thousands of people in Naivasha and Nakuru who were targeted for no reason other than that they belonged to the wrong tribe.”

“Men were beheaded in the streets,” he said. “Human heads were paraded on sticks. Women were serially raped, and then doused in paraffin and set alight. Children were burned alive. Houses and tiny business premises were pillaged and destroyed in their thousands. The surviving victims of those crimes have received no justice from the Kenyan criminal justice system.”

Mr. Kenyatta, one of the richest men in Africa, had always tried to distance himself from the bloodletting in Kenya during the chaotic election period of 2007 and 2008. Many of the killings were committed by bands of youths, and prosecutors said among them were gangs armed, paid and bused by associates of Mr. Kenyatta.

The son of Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru Kenyatta was elected president last year after teaming up with another defendant in the case in the International Criminal Court, William Ruto, now Kenya’s deputy president.

Mr. Ruto has also been charged with crimes against humanity, but prosecution has been hampered by the same impediments that dogged Mr. Kenyatta’s case: constant allegations of witness tampering, bribery and obstruction.

In reacting to the announcement that his case had been dropped, Mr. Kenyatta said that he was “excited” but that he also wanted charges dropped against Mr. Ruto, Reuters reported.

In October, Mr. Kenyatta made a reluctant appearance before the court in The Hague, and prosecutors at the time said the case could not continue until the Kenyan government ended its obstruction and provided evidence that had been requested more than two years earlier. The defense insisted that the case had failed.

On Friday, Steven Kay, Mr. Kenyatta’s lawyer, said the court now owed his client an apology for impugning his integrity.

With no enforcement power, the court cannot collect evidence, compel witnesses to testify or visit crime scenes without permission of the national authorities. As a member of the court, Kenya is bound to cooperate with it.

But the government blocked investigators’ access to 10 police officers who were either witnesses or participants in the violence. It also ignored prosecution requests for phone and bank records that might have provided evidence of payments to gangs hired to organize violence.

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