Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at ICC over charges linked to 2007 violence

UhuruKenyatta-1(CNN) — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday became the first sitting head of state to appear before the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity.

Kenyatta, 52, is accused of five counts of crimes against humanity for allegedly orchestrating violence after a disputed presidential election in 2007.

Shortly before he left for the Netherlands, he appointed his deputy president to serve as acting President, saying he is attending the hearing at The Hague as a private citizen.

More than 1,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced when ethnic groups loyal to leading candidates torched homes and hacked rivals in violence that raged until early 2008.

Kenyatta, who backed then-incumbent Mwai Kibaki in that election, is accused of funding a local militia that conducted reprisal attacks.

The second day of the status hearing will determine whether his case can proceed to trial. The first day was held Tuesday, but he was not required to attend. The court mandated that he be present on the last day.

During the hearing Tuesday, the prosecution accused the Kenyan government of not providing key documents in the case against its leader. The defense denied the allegation.

Kenya is the second African nation after Sudan to have a sitting president face charges at the International Criminal Court.

But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir does not cooperate with the court, and has rejected ICC warrants for his arrest for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Lack of evidence

“My conscience is clear, has been clear, and will remain forever clear that I am innocent of all the accusations leveled against me,” Kenyatta said before he boarded the plane in Nairobi.

The ICC prosecutor has postponed the start of the trial numerous times, citing lack of evidence. The prosecution has suffered a series of setbacks, with witnesses withdrawing and others admitting to lying.

“In ordinary circumstances, the insufficiency of evidence would cause theprosecution to withdraw the charges,” the ICC said in September.

“However, it would be inappropriate for the prosecution to withdraw the charges at this stage in light of the government of Kenya continuing failure to cooperate fully with the court’s requests for assistance in this case.”

This is the first time Kenyatta is attending a hearing in person since he assumed office in April last year.

Deputy president also facing charges

The ICC has also accused Deputy President William Ruto of orchestrating attacks. His trial started in September 2013.

Both leaders have denied any links to the violence among their respective ethnic groups, and have said they will cooperate with the court to clear their names.

ICC withdrawal?

The International Criminal Court was set up in 2002 to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Parliament of Kenya voted in September to withdraw from ICC jurisdiction after repeatedly calling on the court to drop the cases. But a withdrawal would take a while to implement because it involves steps such as a formal notification to the United Nations. The ICC has said the trials will proceed.

The nation’s previous administration reneged on a deal to set up a special tribunal to try suspects in the post-election violence, prompting the international court to step in.

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