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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kenya 2.0 - Judgement Day

At exactly 2 o’clock tomorrow, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will make the announcement that a vast majority of Kenyans expect will change their country forever.

A notice on the ICC website said that the press conference where he is expected to announce the names of his six suspects will not be held at 5pm as earlier announced. It is expected he will make public his two cases on the post-election violence including the names of six suspects, which he will file before the judges on the same day. Court officials last week issued a statement saying that Mr Moreno-Ocampo would make “an important announcement” about the Kenyan case and which will be streamed live to Internet users.

The announcement came as officials confirmed on Saturday night that Mr Moreno-Ocampo would go ahead with his decision to name suspects behind the 2007/8 post-election violence on Wednesday, ignoring spirited attempts to halt the process. The development will represent the most dramatic attempt to tackle an entrenched culture of political violence cited as one of the greatest threats to stability in Kenya. No senior figures have ever been held to account for cyclical waves of violence that have cost the country thousands of lives in the last three decades. An ICC official said a series of applications lawyers have attempted to file at The Hague would not affect the process, adding that the case was in the hands of the prosecutor, and it was up to him to decide whether to halt the process before Wednesday. Lawyers for the suspects, he said, would have an opportunity to present their case to ICC judges after the case proceeds to the pre-trial chamber.

The naming of the suspects – who include top coalition leaders, businessmen and security chiefs – will be a development of historical significance. It is expected to trigger changes in the Cabinet within the next few weeks because serving public officers are expected to come under intense pressure to step down. Political realignments are also likely to follow, and some diplomats say there is a risk of low grade violence in some parts of the country. Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) commissioner Hassan Omar said the start of the prosecution process holds the potential to tackle impunity by demonstrating that senior government officials can be held to account for their conduct. “Those who have tried to politicise this process have done a great injustice to the victims. The perpetrators have shown they have no remorse for the crimes committed, for the numerous children killed, mothers raped and countless others displaced.
Getting justice for these victims will help the nation move forward. Those who are threatening violence will also be dealt with by the ICC process because the politics of fear is on the same side of the coin as impunity,” Mr Omar said.

Speculation about the identity of the suspects has intensified with some sources at The Hague saying Kenyans might be surprised to learn the identities of “one or two of those included or omitted”. Another source of uncertainty is the likely reaction of some of the militia that remain loyal to the perpetrators. In a nation that is trying to consolidate the delicate peace deal that ended the 2007/8 standoff, some have warned of a fresh outbreak of violence. Outgoing European Union ambassador Eric van der Linden told Reuters he was confident Kenya’s political leadership would not allow the country to slide back into a state of widespread violence. But he said occasional flare-ups could not be ruled out. “We don’t expect violence when Mr Ocampo names names. There may perhaps be some very local reactions of discontent, possibly in the Rift Valley and perhaps in the Central province,” he said. A US embassy note to American citizens said they did not expect the ICC announcement to provoke an aggressive reaction. “However, the announcement may increase political tensions and tension can turn to violence with little or no warning,” the message said. Surveys show a solid majority of Kenyans – 68 per cent at the last poll – support ICC action. Those figures reflect widespread public frustration over the failure of Kenyan institutions, especially the Attorney-General’s office, to pursue prosecution of high-level suspects behind electoral violence. No one was held to account for the attacks leading up to the 1992 General Election that began with a wave of forced displacements three years earlier. The violent displacement of residents from Mombasa’s Likoni area in August 1997 also went unpunished. Both episodes were seen to have been sponsored by the State.

Political scientist Dr Tom Wolf, who consults for research firm Synovate, says there would be a new opinion poll in the next few weeks to gauge public reaction to the naming of the so-called Ocampo Six. “It will be important to track public opinion because we will only begin to know the actual content of the prosecutor’s case once the actual names are presented. Although Ocampo describes his work as entirely a judicial process, for Kenyans it is also a highly political one especially when viewed through the lens of its potential impact. And it is also a social one on how Kenyans view each other and live with each other. For survey researchers and other analysts it will be important to pay close attention to how Kenyans are reacting.” The Kenya case was referred to The Hague by chief mediator Kofi Annan after local authorities failed to establish a special tribunal to try the suspects.

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