NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya's parliament began action Thursday to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, just before the country's president and deputy president face trial at The Hague for allegedly inciting postelection violence.
Citing the fact that the United States is not a member, the majority leader of Kenya's parliament on Thursday argued that Kenya should withdraw from the statute that created the ICC.
Adan Duale told a special session of parliament that U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both argued against the United States becoming a party to the Rome Statute, which regulates prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
Clinton and Bush, Duale said, refused to join the ICC in order to protect U.S. citizens and soldiers from potential politically-motivated prosecutions.
"Let us protect our citizens. Let us defend the sovereignty of the nation of Kenya," Duale said in arguing for a vote to withdraw.
The Kenyan debate is a reaction to the start next week of the trial at The Hague of Deputy President William Ruto. Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta face charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly helping to orchestrate postelection violence in 2007-08 that killed more than 1,000 people.
Kenyatta, who was elected president earlier this year, faces trial in November. Both leaders have said they will cooperate with the court.
A parliament vote is expected later Thursday. The speaker will call a voice vote and if there is no opposition the motion will pass, said David Mugonyi, a former parliamentary communications officer. If there is opposition during the voice vote then there will be a ballot vote. Members of the Kenyatta and Ruto alliance hold a parliament majority with about 191 out of the 349 legislators.
If parliament votes to withdraw from the Rome Statute, Kenya will be the first nation to do so. But even if Kenya formally withdraws from the statute, the country is still obligated to cooperate with the court for the two trials, according to the parameters of the statute.
"Kenya gains no legal advantage by withdrawing from the ICC," said William Pace and official with the Coalition for the ICC. "In the long run, the promoters of this action are hurting the reputation of Kenya as a nation that supports international human rights and the rule of law."
Kenyatta's and Ruto's indictments led the U.S. and European powers like the U.K. to openly advocate for the two leaders' electoral defeat. When the two were declared the winners in March's election with 50.03 percent of the vote, both countries gave only lukewarm congratulations. However, U.S. and U.K. relations with Kenya since then have appeared to be at least quasi-normal, though when President Barack Obama embarked on a tour of Africa in June and July he did not visit Kenya, his father's home country.
The International Criminal Court has only indicted Africans, a fact that has opened the court to severe criticism on the continent. The chairman of the African Union earlier this year said that ICC prosecutions "have degenerated into some kind of race hunt."
The ICC stepped in to investigate Kenya's postelection violence after the country failed to prosecute any of the perpetrators or organizers of the attacks. Kenya suffered three months of ethnic attacks with machetes and guns in running battles that severely harmed the country's reputation as a stable democracy and a safe tourist destination.