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Kenya's 'Ocampo Six' soon to clear last hurdle before trial

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Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

(Read caption) Supporters of Kenya's Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta participate in a demonstration against the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the capital Nairobi on Dec. 16, 2010.

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Kenya’s “Ocampo Six” are six political figures accused by International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of having played critical roles in fomenting political violence following Kenya’s 2007 presidential elections. In April, the suspects appeared before the Court for a formal presentation of the charges against them. In September, the suspects will return to The Hague for a “confirmation of charges” hearing, the last major stage before trials begin. Daily Nation explains the calendar:

The oral hearings for the case against radio presenter Joshua Sang and suspended ministers William Ruto and Henry Kosgey would close on September 20 but the judges may ask the parties for more information in writing.

If the judges are satisfied with the oral submissions, the three would know whether they will go to trial by November 20 but the date may be later if the judges ask the parties for more information.

The oral hearing of the case against Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Civil Service head Francis Muthaura and former police commissioner Hussein Ali will run from September 21 to October 11.

The three will then know their fate as early as December 20 or later if the judges ask for more information.

Many Kenyan leaders are still not on board with the process. Some of the suspects want the hearings delayed. Kenyan investigators are interviewing the suspects as the government appeals to the ICC to allow Kenya to try the accused at home. But it seems the case will go forward; Kenya already lost one appeal to handle the cases on its own.

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The timing of the different phases of the case set the stage for domestic tensions to grow in Kenya. The next presidential elections won’t be until December 2012, but campaigning has already effectively begun. Uhuru Kenyatta, current Finance Minister and one of the accused, is a major presidential aspirant. Although several polls have shown that a majority of Kenyans support the ICC process, if campaigning heats up at the same time that the trial intensifies, Kenyatta’s supporters could begin to say that the ICC is interfering in Kenyan politics and unfairly targeting their champion. Further politicization of the ICC case would add to the potential for a tense election year.

To stress the point even further, I’ve become increasingly convinced that law is politics, or at least that there is blurry line between the legal realm and the political realm. Putting it more concretely, the ICC has become an actor not just in the legal sphere, but also in Kenyan politics. That involvement carries risks of unintended consequences, risks that are particularly chilling in light of fears that next year will be another bloodbath.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.