Kenya on the road to justice?

For most of us (unless you're David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Gordon Brown), the last UK general election was nothing short of a soap-operatic, emotion-fuelled dramatic spectacle. Never before had I overheard so many people on the number 149 bus in north London chattering about a Hung Parliament.  Yes, we may have been in the midst of some sort of constitutional crisis at that point, but we knew that, the situation would work itself out and eventually normal order would resume. And certainly no lives would be lost.

Tragically the same couldn’t be said for Kenya’s last presidential elections.  Much like the UK, the 2007 elections in Kenya produced confusion and uncertainty as to who was the rightful leader of the country. But unlike the UK, the consequences of this uncertainty resulted in what has become one of the bloodiest moments in Kenya’s modern history.

More than 1,000 Kenyans were killed as a result of the violence that erupted following the disputed presidential elections, and thousands of others suffered horrific human rights abuses in politically-motivated and ethnic attacks.

And none of the instigators of those attacks had been brought to justice.  Until now.  
Today’s ruling by the International Criminal Court that four senior Kenyan figures will stand trial over alleged involvement of these atrocities committed during the post-election violence is certainly significant.  Not least because the accused include Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (who The Guardian also tells us is Kenya’s richest citizen) and former Education Minister William Ruto. As well as that, both of them are presidential candidates for Kenya’s forthcoming presidential elections.

But the ruling could also go some way to providing justice for the thousands of women, men and children who are the survivors of this brutal violence.
In his statement to the court, the Presiding Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova said that the desire of the ICC Chamber was “to bring peace to the people of Kenya and prevent hostilities”. As Amnesty Kenya’s Director said earlier today, today’s ruling is an ‘important milestone for the victims’.  But in order for the ICC to provide meaningful justice, they must ensure that the defendants are brought to trial quickly and fairly.  Justice delayed is justice denied. It has been denied to the thousands of survivors of these atrocities for too long.

This year Kenyans are expected to return to the polling stations to vote for a fresh set of presidential elections. Before they can do so, a clear message has to be sent both internationally and within Kenya’s own justice system that no political and / or ethnically-motivated attacks will go unpunished. Today the international justice system sent the right signal. Let’s hope that they follow through with that by ensuring that these trials are carried out promptly, and fairly.  It’s also time for Kenya to open up investigations into the thousands of crimes committed during that time and to make sure that all the perpetrators of this violence are brought to book.

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