AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Investigators at the International Criminal Court are ready to name up to six suspects they say were behind Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008, in a case that will test the fragile coalition government.
The naming of suspects, due on Wednesday, has heightened tensions in Kenya, where media reports say changes in the cabinet could follow as leaders come under pressure to resign.
The ICC has not said who is in the frame but two senior politicians -- suspended higher education minister William Ruto and finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta -- have been named as being behind the violence by a Kenyan state-funded human rights group.
The ICC case is intended to act as a deterrent against violence in future elections, next due in 2012, demonstrating that politicians who instigate mayhem will be punished.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo started a formal investigation in March 2010 into the violence in which 1,220 people died and more than 350,000 were displaced, severely denting Kenya’s reputation for stability in a turbulent region.
“Victims were hurt. They were raped, their homes burnt and they lost their cattle,” Moreno-Ocampo said at the time. “We are siding with them. We will do justice.”
Moreno-Ocampo will present two cases with up to three suspects each and is expected to name business leaders, security chiefs and politicians from Kenya’s two main political movements: the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement.
The prosecutor has said he will request summons for voluntary court appearances, and on Tuesday he warned suspects not to tamper with evidence, hinder the investigation, or attempt to influence or interfere with witness testimony.
“If the suspects do not comply with the conditions set by the Chamber, I will request arrest warrants. If there is any indication of bribes, intimidation or threats, I will request arrest warrants,” he said in a statement.
Ruto, who denies he was behind the violence, has started legal moves to try to prevent the ICC from naming him and other suspects. Kenyatta has said he has nothing to fear from the ICC.
Lawyers representing senior Kenyan government officials including provincial commissioners and police officers who were in charge of areas where violence broke out, said they had also asked the prosecutor to hold off naming suspects until their clients were given assurances they would not be prosecuted.
The president’s office in Kenya said on Monday it would set up a local court to try suspects involved in the violence. Human rights activists suggested it could try less prominent figures not brought before the ICC.
“The best-case scenario would be to have ICC prosecutions going forward and complemented at the national level with additional trials of other perpetrators,” said Liz Evenson at Human Rights Watch.
“At the end of the day, it is up to ICC judges to decide whether there is some national proceeding in place that cuts off ICC jurisdiction, but I think we’re still far off from that.”
The results of the December 2007 election were disputed, prompting protests which escalated in early 2008 when militias attacked opponents and police used excessive force. Violence was centred in the Rift Valley, an opposition stronghold.
Moreno-Ocampo is now very popular in Kenya, where polls show a majority support the ICC action amid frustration at the failure of Kenyan courts to prosecute high-level suspects.