(Updates with comment from chief prosecutor in fourth paragraph, defense lawyer comment in fifth.)
Sept. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The International Criminal Court began a pretrial hearing today of three Kenyans, including presidential aspirant William Ruto, accused of committing crimes against humanity during violence after elections in 2007.
The public hearing in The Hague will determine whether Ruto, 44, lawmaker Henry Kosgey, 64, and radio host Joshua arap Sang, 35, will face charges of murder, forced displacement and persecution, or have their cases dismissed because of insufficient evidence.
An estimated 1,500 people were killed in East Africa’s richest nation in two months of ethnic violence that followed a disputed presidential election in December 2007. The worst of the fighting stopped after President Mwai Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu, signed a power-sharing accord with his political foe Raila Odinga, a Luo by tribe, who was named as prime minister.
“Ruto, Kosgey and Sang are individually responsible for the widespread attack,” Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the court today. “They provided weapons, funds, money and land to those who participated.”
David Hooper, a lawyer for Ruto, said the prosecution’s investigation is erroneous. The chief prosecutor failed to probe evidence that may clear Ruto, Hooper told the three-judge panel presided by Ekaterina Trendafilova of Bulgaria.
The fighting caused economic growth in Kenya, which is primarily reliant on tea and tourism revenue, to plunge to 1.7 percent in 2008 from 7.1 percent a year earlier. The government forecasts expansion at 5.3 percent this year.
The court is scheduled to start another pre-trial hearing on Sept. 21 for a second group of accused, including Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura, head of the civil service, and former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali. All six men have said they are innocent of the accusations.
Moreno-Ocampo alleges that Kenyan opposition party supporters of mainly the Kalenjin tribe, led by Ruto, carried out “widespread and systematic” attacks using guns and crude weapons against Kikuyu, Kamba and Kisii people, who they believed supported Kibaki’s Party of National Unity.
Those assaults left almost 250 people dead and displaced about 40,000 more, according to a statement on the ICC’s website. Kosgey, as deputy leader and treasurer, allegedly managed funds, while Sang spread hate messages about the Kikuyu group and inflamed tensions via the radio, according to the ICC statement.
Ruto, whom Kibaki fired as higher education minister last week, said he intends to run for president in the next general election whether the ICC charges are confirmed or dropped, the Nairobi-based Sunday Nation newspaper reported on Aug. 28.
A ruling on the pre-trial hearing that began today is expected within 60 days after it closes, according to a statement by the ICC published in the newspaper the same day.
The cases ICC-01/09-01/11 and ICC-01/09-02/11.
--Editors: Paul Richardson, Alan Crawford
To contact the reporters on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at or email@example.com; Jurjen van de Pol in The Hague at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com.