THE HAGUE — The lawyer of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto on Thursday urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to drop a crimes against humanity case against him, saying prosecutors had failed to prove his role in poll-linked bloodshed.
“The evidence is palpably missing,” Karim Khan told a three-judge bench at a hearing to assess whether Mr Ruto had a case to answer for his involvement in deadly 2007-08 post-election violence.
Mr Ruto and his co-accused, radio boss Joshua Arap Sang, face three crimes against humanity charges including murder, forcible deportation and persecution arising from the unrest after disputed elections in late 2007.
Prosecutors say more than 1,300 people died and 600,000 others were left homeless in the worst unrest in the east African powerhouse since independence from Britain in 1963.
Mr Ruto, dressed in a dark suit, light blue shirt and yellow tie, listened intently and nodded his head and smiled at times as Mr Khan presented his arguments.
“One of the main characteristics… is that the key elements on which this case has been based have disappeared,” said Mr Khan.
For instance, at an ICC hearing in September 2011 to determine whether Mr Ruto should face trial, prosecutors alleged he had attended at least 11 meetings to set up a criminal network to carry out the violence.
But no proof was presented during Mr Ruto’s trial that such meetings ever took place, Mr Khan said.
“The prosecution is in dire straits in their bid to maintain that there was a criminal organisation that resembles at all what they said they would prove when this trial started,” Mr Khan said.
“Their case has completely broken down,” he said.
Violence broke out after opposition chief Raila Odinga from the Luo ethnic group accused then president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, of rigging the elections.
What began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings of the Kikuyu people, who in turn launched reprisal attacks.
Both Mr Ruto and Mr Sang reject the accusations and last year their lawyers filed a request for the world’s only permanent war crimes court to drop the charges as there was “no case to answer”.
Prosecutors closed their case in September 2015 and the defence’s case is yet to start.
Judges are set to rule on the request at a later stage and may still deny the defence application, meaning the case would continue.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in December 2014 dropped a twin case against Ruto’s rival, now President Uhuru Kenyatta who faced similar charges. That announcement was the ICC’s biggest setback since the court was established in 2002. It followed a long-running troubled case including allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony.
Kenya has fought an international campaign to drop the cases and has led African accusations that the ICC is unfairly targeting the continent’s leaders.