ICC adjourns Ruto trial over Nairobi hostage crisis

AFP , Monday 23 Sep 2013

Kenyan Vice President William Ruto is in the Hague on charges of masterminding some of the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya that left over 1,000 people dead and several hundred thousand displaced

File Photo of Kenya's then suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto (L) sits in Kenya's High Court in the capital Nairobi, in this October 26, 2010 (Photo: Reuters)

The International Criminal Court on Monday briefly excused Kenyan Vice President William Ruto from his crimes against humanity trial so he can deal with the bloody Nairobi shopping mall siege.

"In the light of the circumstances... the chamber does excuse Mr. Ruto from the proceedings before the court... for one week only," Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said at an urgent hearing.

In a separate filing, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, also a defendant before the Hague-based court, asked to be excused from large swathes of his own crimes against humanity trial, due to start in November.

Ruto went on trial last week, the highest-ranking official to do so before the ICC, and is the first suspect to be excused to go home to work in the history of the 10-year-old court.

He left the court and went to the airport to fly back to Kenya to deal with the ongoing hostage crisis at Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, where at least 62 people have been killed.

Eboe-Osuji later adjourned the trial of Ruto and co-accused Joshua arap Sang for at least a week, or until ICC judges rule on a prosecution appeal against an earlier decision allowing Ruto to be absent from parts of his trial.

Ruto is in The Hague on charges of masterminding some of the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya that left over 1,000 people dead and several hundred thousand displaced.

Ruto, 46, and Kenyan radio boss Sang, 38, stand accused of stoking the worst violence in the east African country since independence in 1963.

Prosecutor Anton Steynberg argued that only a one-week adjournment was necessary for Ruto to put people in place to deal with the Nairobi crisis.

"It's really a very trying moment for our country," Ruto said outside the court after the judge excused him.

Even before the Nairobi militant attack, the court was weighing whether to excuse Ruto from large portions of his trial so he can perform his official functions.

Ruto has also already asked for his trial to be held nearer to home, in Tanzania or Kenya, something the court has so far rejected.

Later Monday, Kenyatta's lawyers filed their own request for the top politician to "be conditionally excused from continuous presence at the trial."

They want Kenyatta to be present "only in respect of the opening and closing of the trial" and when the judgement is delivered.

If Kenyatta needed attend other hearings, it should be done via video-link, his lawyers asked.

Ruto on Monday said his and Kenyatta's attention was on dealing with the mall attack.

"Both myself and the president have committed ourselves to be present here in court so that we can clear our names, but we have to counterbalance our responsibilities and legitimate requirements to 40 million Kenyans," Ruto said.

"I will be home hopefully this evening to assist in my capacity as deputy president, managing the situation at home."

Kenyan security forces were locked in a fierce, final battle with Somali Islamist gunmen inside the Nairobi mall on Monday.

An urgent motion filed by Khan on Sunday asked for an adjournment so that "Mr. Ruto can return to Kenya to deal with an ongoing and extremely serious matter of national security."

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