Judges handling the prosecution of Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, have disagreed on the decision to excuse him from being physically present during the court proceedings at The Hague.
In a statement today, the Pre-trial chamber V (a) that is in charge of the trial of Ruto and his co-accused, radio journalist Joshua Arap Sang, said that Ruto could now stay away from some of the court sessions. It said the decision follows a request that Ruto submitted to the court seeking absence from some of the trial sessions to enable him perform his functions as the Deputy President of Kenya, a position he was elected to only three months ago during the Kenya’s general elections.
However, while Judges Robert Fremr and Chile Eboe-Osuji unanimously agreed to grant Ruto his request, Olga Herrera Carbuccia, fellow judge in the chamber objected. She later issued a statement on her dissenting opinion saying that the accused person requires being present during the trial regardless of his official capacity.
Judge Carbuccia explained that the Chamber has the duty to ensure that all accused are treated fairly and impartially adding that all accused must be treated equally, without making any adverse distinction.
The court however stressed that the decision to allow Ruto to stay away from some of the trial sessions was a matter of striking a reasonable balance that accommodates the demanding functions of his office as Deputy Head of State of Kenya, but does not afford him any immunity.
It also added that the decision would not affect the trial and appearance before the court of Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president who, like Ruto is also facing charges of murder and persecution. The court however ruled that while Ruto could stay away from some of the proceedings, his presence is required during the entirety of the opening and closing statements of all parties and participants.
Other sessions he has to personally attend are: when victims present their views and concerns in person, the entirety of the delivery of judgment in the case and if applicable, the entirety of the sentencing hearings.
Ruto and Sang were due to appear before the court on September 10 when their trial officially starts however, with the decision made today, the Deputy President could now choose to stay away from the session and only send his lawyer.
Information from the court also indicates that while President Kenyatta has not applied to be excused from being present at his trial, he has sought to attend the trial via video-link, a request, which the Trial Chamber V (b) that is separately handling his case will decide.
The disagreement between the judges handling the cases in Kenya comes two months after Christine Van den Wyngaert; another Trial Chamber Judge at the International Criminal Court withdrew from the case citing irregularity in handling the case.
Uganda, DRC, Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Cote D’ Ivore and Mali are the other countries where the International Criminal Court is pursuing cases related to crimes against humanity.