The Hague - International Criminal Court (ICC) member
states on Wednesday agreed to let defendants ask to appear by video-conference
in a concession to a Kenyan campaign against the trial of their leaders.
The 122 ICC states also eased other conditions for key
political figures facing charges amid mounting pressure from African countries
over trials involving the continent.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President
William Ruto have pressed the ICC and the UN Security Council to suspend their
trials for crimes against humanity over violence after a 2007 election.
The changes by the ICC's Assembly of States Parties was
welcomed by the US, but criticised by rights groups for allowing special cases.
A motion passed by the assembly said an accused can
request "to be allowed to be present through the use of video technology
during part or parts of his or her trial”.
The court will rule on a "case-by-case basis",
added the motion.
The assembly also gave the ICC greater leeway to excuse
an accused from part of a hearing if the defendant is "mandated to fulfil
extraordinary public duties."
Both changes were proposed by key ICC members, including
Britain and France, after talks with Kenya and other African nations, according
to diplomats. Both were seen as a concession over the Kenyatta and Ruto cases
after the Security Council's refusal to suspend their trials.
The two are accused of fomenting political unrest after a
2007 presidential election in which more than 1 100 people died.
Kenyatta, Ruto and the African Union, have argued that
their presence at the trials would hamper the running of Kenya as it confronts
threats to stability.
to attend trials
On Tuesday, the ICC ruled, however, that Kenyatta must
attend all of his trial - already suspended three times - when it opens in
February. Ruto's trial is now half completed.
The US, which is not an ICC member, but strongly supports
its work, applauded the changes.
The ICC assembly "resolved this matter in a manner
that appropriately protects the rights and interests of both victims and
defendants while allowing the judicial process to proceed without delay”, said
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN.
"The United States believes in the importance of
accountability for those responsible for crimes against humanity, and we have
taken seriously Kenyan concerns about the ongoing trial proceedings," she
After Kenya appealed to the UN Security Council to
suspend the Kenyatta trial, the US and European nations said the government
should go to the ICC assembly to ease trial conditions.
Power praised the "remarkable efforts" of ICC
members including Kenya, but also South Africa and Botswana, to get the changes
"The situation the ICC is confronting in the Kenya
cases is a new one," Power said. "The ICC has never before tried a
defendant who is also a sitting head-of-state and who has appeared voluntarily
Rights group Amnesty International criticised the court
"It is the first time a distinction for persons with
official capacity has been recognised in internationals trials for crimes under
international law, striking at the notion of equality before the law,"
said a statement.
Some African nations have increasingly criticised the
ICC, saying that it discriminates against their continent.