A Step Toward Justice in Kenya
By Cassidy Regan on 01/24/2012 @ 09:00 AM
Yesterday, the International Criminal Court (a multilateral body dedicated to holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable) announced that four of the six Kenyans suspected of inciting post-election violence in 2007-2008 will head to trial. Though the road ahead is long, the decision is a step toward justice – and another demonstration of Kenya’s progress toward peace.
In the aftermath of Kenya’s electoral crisis, many both within the country and outside it called for perpetrators of violence to be held accountable. The Kenyan government initially pursued a domestic tribunal, but efforts failed to pass in Parliament. When little action had been taken almost two years later, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began an investigation of the post-election atrocities; since then, the process has been one fraught with controversy.
Some maintain that the Kenyan government should retain responsibility for any trials, and others point out that the ICC has focused on African leaders more than others (leaving those committing crimes on other continents in the clear). More than a few feel that their representatives are the victims of both domestic and international conspiracies. Despite these concerns, overall public support for the ICC investigation in Kenya has remained strong, and, in March of 2011, the Court indicted six high-profile figures for potential contributions to the post-election violence.
Yesterday's announcement determined which of the cases, if any, had enough evidence to continue to trial. In anticipation of the rising tension around the decisions, international and local organizations – from the Friends Church Peace Team to USAID – worked to prevent violence in volatile areas. While FCPT used the opportunity to test a text message-based community monitoring system, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives supported Kenyan groups conducting educational programs on the ICC’s process. Though much concern remained heading into yesterday’s announcements, reports from Kenya have so far celebrated a peaceful response. Moreover, the four charged include figures that had been affiliated with both political parties involved in the electoral crisis.
In working to hold political elites accountable, the ICC cases are making important headway against continued impunity for perpetrators of post-election violence. But while Kenyans now know that four will be tried by the ICC, much uncertainty remains. Their government has yet to decide whether the two still holding governmental positions will be forced to resign, as well as whether the two running for president will be disqualified. Some are disappointed to learn that two of the six have had their charges cleared (particularly considering one's chairmanship of a major political party and the other's former position as head of police, as security forces were responsible for as much as 40% of the 2007-2008 post-election violence). Given the process of appeals and trials now expected, it could also be quite some time before the guilt or innocence of the four is determined.
In the meantime, it’s important to note that the ICC trials shouldn’t be the only means of pursuing justice. Over the next year, accountability must also be established through criminal justice reform at more local levels in Kenya, helping to ensure that those who might commit violence against their neighbors feel equal responsibility as those who orchestrate violence from Nairobi. Simultaneously, more investment needs to be made in the reconciliation processes that provide space for communities to heal and rebuild – thus helping to prevent more deadly conflict from occurring in the first place.
Despite not being party to the ICC (a position that has elicited much criticism), the U.S. has been an important supporter of the Kenyan cases as one of the only modes of justice to move forward thus far. As the process continues, the U.S. should remain an advocate for full cooperation with the ICC – and, on another note, should join the Court itself – while also expressing support for further progress toward holistic justice reforms. Though the end result of the ICC cases is yet to be known, the process is one that, for many Kenyans, represents a recognition that violence in their communities should not go without consequences – no matter how powerful those responsible might be.