THE HAGUE // The International Criminal Court today excused Kenyan vice president William Ruto from his crimes against humanity trial for a week so he can deal with the Nairobi militant attack.
“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.
Mr Ruto is the highest-ranking serving official to be tried by the ICC, and is the first suspect to be excused to go home to work in the history of the 10-year-old court.
Mr Ruto’s lawyer Karim Khan, who had asked for his client to be excused for two weeks, told the judge that he was hoping to catch a flight to Kenya that was due to leave the Netherlands at 11am (1pm UAE).
Mr Ruto is in The Hague defending himself against charges of masterminding some of the 2007-08 post-election violence that left over 1,000 people dead and several hundred thousand displaced.
The Kenyan vice president, 46, and his co-accused, Kenyan radio boss Joshua arap Sang, 38, stand accused of stoking the worst violence in the east African country since independence in 1963.
“It’s really a very trying moment for our country,” Mr Ruto said outside the court after the judge excused him.
“We hope that some people will begin to contextualise and begin to appreciate the challenges that Kenya is going through, the region is going through and the complications that are brought by what is going on here,” he said of the ICC.
Even before the Nairobi militant attack, the court was weighing whether to excuse Mr Ruto from large portions of his trial so he can perform his official functions.
Mr 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.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is also charged with crimes against humanity, and his trial is due to start in November.
“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.”
The trial will continue without Mr Ruto and lawyers will discuss whether it should now be adjourned.
Somali Al Shebab militants threatened to kill the hostages they are holding in a Nairobi shopping mall as Kenyan troops move to end their siege after the militants killed at least 68 people.
An urgent motion filed by Khan on Sunday asked for an adjournment so that “Mr Ruto can return to Kenya to deal with an continuing and extremely serious matter of national security.”
“Mr Ruto ... is required to return to Kenya to discharge his ordinary constitutional duties which include participating in security briefings and consultations and involvement in other ongoing and very sensitive national security investigations,” it added.