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ICC Drops Crimes Against Humanity Case Against Kenyan Deputy Vice President Ruto

Tuesday's ruling to throw out the case against William Ruto and Kenyan television journalist Joshua arap Sang ends a controversial trial over a wave of violence that occurred after Kenya's 2007 elections.

by Kayla Ruble
Apr 5 2016, 5:40pm

Photo by Michael Kooren/Reuters

The International Criminal Court has dropped the case against Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto over charges connected to 2007 post-electoral violence in the African country, ending a controversial trial that was one of the ICC's highest-profile hearings to date.

Ruto and Kenyan television journalist Joshua arap Sang were charged with indirectly perpetrating murder, deportation, and persecution. The defense had filed a "no case to answer" motion that ultimately prevailed with Tuseday's ruling.

"The case of William Samoei Ruto and Joshua arap Sang is to be terminated," ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah said in a video statement posted online. "According to the majority this decision does not preclude new prosecution in the future, either at the ICC or in a national jurisdiction."

According to the statement, a judge siding with the majority determined there was no case to answer for the accused based on an assessment of the evidence presented. Another referred to the case as a mistrial, saying observed interference and political meddling could not be discounted as having intimidated witnesses, many of whom recanted their testimony.

Ruto's alleged crimes occurred after the 2007 elections that saw President Mwai Kibaki claim victory over Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) politician Raila Odinga. ODM supporters counter-claimed that their side had actually won, pointing to pre-election polling that had indicated Odinga was in the lead.

With Kibaki clinging to victory, his presidential inauguration at the end of the year sparked protests and deadly, ethnically motivated violence. Security forces clashed violently with protesters. Around 1,200 people died and thousands fled or were displaced from their homes before a United Nations-brokered peace agreement resolved the unrest in February 2008.

Ruto, an ODM official at the time, was later charged by the ICC along with current President Uhuru Kenyatta. At the time of the 2007 elections Kenyatta was a KANU party member and supported Kibaki, but he joined forces with Ruto for the 2013 elections.

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Prosecutors withdrew charges against Kenyatta in 2014, claiming an obstruction of evidence by the Kenyan government, but Ruto remained on trial in the joint case against him and Sang.

The Ruto and Sang trial has seen a flurry of controversy over witness statements and evidence, with five witnesses either recanting or altering their testimonies. After much debate, the ICC ultimately blocked these rescinded statements from being used in the prosecution of the defendants. Critics slammed the defense, accusing the team of intimidating witnesses.

The effect significantly weakened the evidence in the case, giving the defense an opening to introduce a "no case to answer" petition.

Kenyatta applauded the decision on from Nairobi on Tuesday, saying the ICC's case had an "ill-conceived" agenda.

"This moment is long overdue but no less joyful. I join my brothers in celebrating their moment of justice," the president said in a statement. "We will continue the work of healing the nation, uniting the people, reconciling communities and ensuring that justice for the victims is achieved."

The ICC has become increasingly controversial among African nations, with several leaders claiming the court has held a bias towards the region since it was established nearly 15 years ago. The court has only pursued cases in one non-African country in a case regarding the 2008 war in Georgia, with the others based in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Libya, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, and Mali.

Related: The ICC Just Convicted Ex-Militia Leader and Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba of War Crimes

Most recently, Kenya expressed anger over changes to ICC protocol made during the 123-member body's meeting in March. Both Kenya and South Africa have threatened to leave the court. Kenyatta's criticisms of the ICC were apparent in the statement he issued about the ICC case and ruling against Ruto and Sang.

"It is quite unfortunate that the ICC has given Kenyans false hope, and as a result, occasioned much disappointment. We will do everything to make it up for Kenyans where this international institution has failed them," Kenyatta said.

During the African Union's annual summit at the end of February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Kenya issued a proposal for member states to withdraw from the ICC. The AU backed this motion, with current chairman and president of Chad Idriss Deby calling out the judiciary for its alleged African bias.

"Elsewhere in the world, many things happen, many flagrant violations of human rights, but nobody cares," he said during the session.

Another trial against former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbofor alleged war crimes kicked off earlier this year. In March, the court made its first conviction for sexual violence as a war crime in the trial of Democratic Republic of Congo's former Vice President turned militia and political party leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was convicted on two counts of crimes against humanity and another three war crimes charges.

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB