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Bensouda fights hard to save Ruto ICC case

12 January 2016, 20:59

The Hague - Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday sought to convince judges not to drop a crimes against humanity case against Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto for his role in deadly 2007-08 post-election violence.

The first-ever public hearing for the court at its shiny new permanent headquarters in The Hague opened with prosecutor Anton Steynberg telling a three-judge bench he had "the quantity of evidence" to convict Ruto.

Ruto, 49, and his co-accused, radio boss Joshua arap Sang, 40, face three crimes against humanity charges including murder, deportation and persecution for their role in the deadly violence that broke out after disputed elections in late 2007.

Prosecutors say more than 1,300 people died and some 600,000 others were left homeless in the worst unrest in the east African powerhouse since independence from Britain in 1963.

Ruto, dressed in a charcoal suit, light blue shirt and maroon tie listened intently as the prosecutor set out his arguments, seldom showing emotion.

His lawyers are expected on Wednesday to beef up arguments as to why the case should be dropped.

Violence broke out after opposition chief Raila Odinga from the Luo ethnic group accused then president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, of rigging his way to re-election.

What began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings of the Kikuyu people, who in turn launched reprisal attacks.

Youths "burnt vehicles, refusing to let people in" to the areas where the violence was centred, Steynberg told the judges.

"They were killing and looting," he said, particularly in Kenya's Rift Valley, which Steynberg called the "epicentre" of the violence.

Many of the deaths were not caused by gunshot, but by blunt instruments, bows and arrows or people who were set on fire, indicating "civilian-on-civilian violence," the prosecutor said.

Steynberg referred to a number of meetings at Ruto's Rift Valley home, where leaders of his ethnic Kalenjin tribe allegedly planned attacks on the Kikuyu tribe of Uhuru Kenyatta, who backed a rival camp.

"These preparations... give an example of Mr Ruto's involvement in the network," Steynberg said.- 'No case to answer' -

Both Ruto and Sang reject the accusations and last year their lawyers filed a request for the world's only permanent war crimes court to drop the charges as there was "no case to answer".

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in December 2014 dropped a twin case against Ruto's rival, now President Kenyatta who faced similar charges.

That announcement was the ICC's biggest setback since the court was established in 2002. It followed a long-running troubled case including allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony.

Kenya has fought an international campaign to put both cases on hold and has led African accusations of the ICC unfairly targeting the continent's leaders for prosecution.

Tuesday's hearing opened in the ICC's new purpose-built headquarters, situated close to its detention unit in a seaside suburb of The Hague.

In a lighter moment as he opened the hearing, Nigerian judge Chile Eboe-Osuji remarked that the courtroom "is a lot bigger than what we are used to," referring to the ICC's former building elsewhere in the Dutch city.

"It will take some getting used to," the judge said.

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