Kenya votes to quit ICC, days before deputy president's trial

Thomas Escritt and James Macharia
Combination photograph of Kenya's finance minister Kenyatta and former Kenyan cabinet minister Ruto in Nairobi
A combination photograph shows Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta (L) addressing a news conference in his office in the capital Nairobi in this December 15, 2010 file photo, and deputy president William Ruto standing inside his house after hearing the news from the International Criminal Court, in Nairobi January 23, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/Goran Tomasevic

By Thomas Escritt and James Macharia

AMSTERDAM/NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's parliament voted on Thursday to quit the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, but the Dutch-based tribunal said it would press ahead anyway with the trials of its president and his deputy.

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are accused of orchestrating violence after elections in 2007. About 1,200 people were killed in ethnic blood-letting that plunged east Africa's biggest economy into crisis.

The ICC's first trial of a sitting president is viewed as the biggest test to date for an institution that has faced mounting criticism in Kenya and across Africa, where it is accused of bias as all the suspects to date have been Africans.

Support for the process, which once had broad backing in Kenya, has been eroded since the peaceful vote in March this year that elected Kenyatta, the son of the country's founding leader.

Parliament, dominated by the alliance that brought him to power, voted in favour of telling the government to withdraw from the ICC.

"I am setting the stage to redeem the image of the Republic of Kenya," Aden Duale, the majority leader from Kenyatta's Jubilee coalition, said on behalf of the motion.

Opposing him, minority leader Francis Nyenze warned: "We'll be seen as a pariah state, we'll be seen as people who are reactionary and who want to have their way."

The ICC said earlier that even if Kenya voted to withdraw, its departure from the first permanent international criminal court would take at least a year and would have no effect on cases already in train.

Ruto's trial starts on Tuesday and Kenyatta's in November, despite Kenyan efforts to have the cases dropped or moved nearer home. Both men have attended pre-trial hearings and have said they will continue to cooperate.

Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said earlier on Thursday that both cases would go ahead.

Fensouda also said there had been repeated threats and bribes aimed at persuading relatives of witnesses in the cases to disclose their whereabouts.

"Witnesses have gone to great lengths to risk their lives and the lives of their relatives to support our investigations and prosecutions," the prosecutor said in a video posted on the court's website.