The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has dropped all charges of crimes against humanity against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, but added that the move was "without prejudice to the possibility of bringing new charges" later against the Kenyan leader.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's move came after the ICC Trial Chamber rejected on Wednesday a request for an adjournment of the case against Kenyatta. It gave Bensouda a week to either proceed to trial or withdraw the charges against the Kenyan leader. But the Hague-based ICC noted earlier this week that the Kenyan government's had not adequately cooperated with the case.
Kenyatta appeared before the ICC on Oct. 8, and at the time, NPR's Gregory Warner noted that the president's lawyer was "very confident in the hearings."
"He's arguing something called undue delay that this case is dragged on long enough and is by admission - by admission of the prosecution - too weak to continue and should be thrown out," Warner said.
The charges against Kenyatta and his deputy president, William Ruto, relate to their alleged instigating and financing of tribal violence in the country after the disputed elections of 2007. More than 1,000 people were killed in the unrest. The case against the two men was deeply unpopular in Kenya, partly because they were the leaders of the two tribes killing each other after the last election. But now, they were on the same presidential ticket.
NPR's Warner reported in October 2013: "Most surprising to some Western observers, they won the election, not despite the ICC but by playing the ICC charges to their advantage. In campaign stops, Kenyatta and Ruto hit the message that the ICC was an instrument of the West to sideline not just the two of them but both of their tribes, the two biggest tribes in Kenya."
Kenyatta, in a statement, said he was "excited" and "relieved" by Bensouda's decision to drop the charges against him.
"I have repeatedly declared my innocence to the people of Kenya and the whole world," he said. "I repeat this even now: as relates the incidents comprising the Kenyan cases at the ICC, my conscience is absolutely clear."
And he added that he was confident Ruto and a third defendant, radio journalist Joshua Sang, "will be vindicated."
The case raises questions about the viability of the ICC, which was set up in 2002 as a successor to the international military tribunals at Nuremberg, which prosecuted prominent Nazis after World War II. But as NPR's Warner noted:
"Over the last decade, what has happened? The court has only secured a couple of convictions of Congolese warlords. In this case, the court is powerless to get Kenya's president to hand over his phone records, and it seems frankly to have stopped trying. So while this court may have a lot of legal authority, it hasn't had much political muscle, and it's certainly an indictment of future successors to the Nuremberg court."