Kenya's Deputy President Goes on Trial at ICC for "Crimes Against Humanity"

As the world's eye focuses on one allegedly murderous leader in Syria, Kenya's deputy president is also on the defense. Deputy President William Ruto officially went on trial Tuesday at the International Criminal Court, and pleaded not guilty to crimes against humanity.

Ruto denied allegedly organizing the violence that left over 1,000 people dead in the aftermath of the controversial presidential election in 2007.

Radio personality Joshua Arap Sang, who is being tried alongside Ruto, has also pleaded not guilty to the same charges, and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ruto's boss, is set to go before the court in November on similar charges.

According to the prosecution, Ruto transported 3,000 guns and hand grenades that were used to attack members of rival tribes and political opponents, causing 200 deaths and over 1,000 injuries. They also accuse him of orchestrating an incident in which 35 people — mainly women and children — took shelter in a church and were subsequently burned alive.

"Mr. Ruto's ultimate goal was to seize power for himself and his party through violent means," Prosecutor Fatouda Bensouda said.

She also said that Sang used his position as a radio show host to "broadcast anti-Kikuyu rhetoric and even helped to coordinate attacks through coded messages," in order to help Ruto.

But according to the defense, the ICC investigation is specifically targeting Ruto and attacking the Kenyan government, pushing evidence together, "however uncomfortable, however ill-fitting, however bizarre."

"The prosecution slipped on a few banana skins on the way, they got it so obviously wrong," he added.

The defense attorneys also said that Ruto should be commended for being the first serving deputy president to willingly put himself before the ICC — ignoring the fact that Kenya's parliament voted only last week to withdraw from the ICC (a move which, as it happens, wouldn't have stopped the trials from moving forward anyway).

The ICC, based in the Hague, is currently holding former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo in custody and has recently indicted Sudanese leader Omar al-Basir for the Darfur genocides.

[Image: ICC-CPI via Flickr]