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Leaders’ trial near, Kenya mulls leaving international court

NAIROBI — Kenya’s Parliament on Thursday passed a motion to withdraw from the International Criminal Court just before the country’s president and deputy president face trial at The Hague for allegedly orchestrating post-election violence more than five years ago.

Citing the fact the United States and other world powers are not members, the majority leader of Parliament argued Kenya should withdraw.

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Adan Duale said presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both argued against the United States becoming a party to the Rome Statute, which regulates prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

A voice vote on the motion easily passed after members of the opposition party walked out, but Kenya can withdraw from the ICC only by formal notification to the United Nations secretary-general by the government, not Parliament.

Clinton and Bush, Duale said, refused to join in order to protect US citizens and soldiers from politically motivated prosecutions.

The chairman of the African Union this year said that ICC prosecutions ‘have degenerated into some kind of race hunt.’

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‘‘Let us protect our citizens. Let us defend the sovereignty of the nation of Kenya,’’ Duale said.

The debate is a reaction to the start next week of the trial of Deputy President William Ruto. Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta face charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly helping to orchestrate post-election violence in 2007-08 in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

Kenyatta, elected president this year, faces trial in November. Both leaders have said they will cooperate with the court.

Parliament has voted to withdraw before, but the executive branch took no action. The Rome Statute says a ‘‘state party’’ may withdraw with written notification; withdrawal takes effect one year later.

A withdrawal does not affect a state’s obligation to cooperate with criminal investigations and proceedings already underway. If Kenya were to withdraw, it would be the first to do so.

‘‘Kenya gains no legal advantage by withdrawing from the ICC,’’ said William Pace, an official with the Coalition for the ICC. ‘‘In the long run, the promoters of this action are hurting the reputation of Kenya as a nation that supports international human rights and the rule of law.’’

The indictments led the United States and European powers to advocate for the two leaders’ electoral defeat. They were declared the winners in March’s election, with 50.03 percent of the vote.

US and British relations with Kenya since then have appeared nearly normal, though when President Obama embarked on a tour of Africa in June and July he did not visit Kenya, his father’s home.

The International Criminal Court has indicted only Africans, triggering severe criticism on the continent. The chairman of the African Union earlier this year said ICC prosecutions ‘‘have degenerated into some kind of race hunt.’’

The ICC stepped in to investigate Kenya’s post-election violence after the country failed to prosecute anyone. Kenya suffered three months of ethnic attacks with machetes and guns in running battles that severely harmed its reputation as a stable democracy and a safe tourist destination.

Elizabeth Evenson, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Belgium, said that every time the ICC process moves forward, Kenya’s political establishment ‘‘scrambles to throw up roadblocks.”

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