The Hague - Kenyan Vice President William Ruto orchestrated
a campaign of ethnic killings "to satisfy his thirst for power" after
disputed 2007 elections, prosecutors said on Tuesday at the start of his trial
at the International Criminal Court.
Ruto, 46, and co-accused Kenyan radio boss Joshua arap Sang,
38, pleaded not guilty to charges of stoking the worst violence in the east
African country since independence in 1963.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ruto's former political foe
turned ally, goes on trial at the ICC on 12 November. He also proclaims his
The start of the high-stakes case, with the ICC's reputation
on the line particularly in Africa, was largely devoted to Ruto's defence, with
his lawyer Karim Khan dramatically asking prosecutors to drop the charges.
Ruto, dressed in a dark grey suit, earlier gave a bemused
smile as the ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened her case, while Sang,
wearing a light grey suit, shook his head and occasionally smiled.
"Mr Ruto, as a powerful politician", planned the
crimes "to satisfy his thirst for political power," Bensouda told the
"It is difficult to imagine the suffering or terror
experienced by the men, women and children who were burnt alive, hacked to
death or chased from their homes," Bensouda added.
"He [Ruto] gathered together and army of... youths to
go to war for him in the event the election was lost," Bensouda said.
"When the election was lost, he gave the order to
Ruto came to court voluntarily from Nairobi to face three
charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly orchestrating the violence in
Kenya, a bastion of stability in east Africa.
At least 30 Kenyan MPs and other supporters welcomed the two
accused as they arrived for the trial that has been painted as political by
critics in Kenya.
The ICC has come under increased pressure globally,
especially from the 54-nation African Union, which has accused the court of
targeting the continent on the basis of race.
Lawmakers in Kenya last week became the first in the world
to approve moves to withdraw recognition of the 10-year-old court that so far
has only one conviction under its belt.
Any move by Kenya to leave the ICC's Rome Statute will have
no effect on the current trials, but observers fear it may spark an exodus of
African member states from the treaty, noting that all current cases stem from
conflicts on the continent.
Ruto and Sang each face three counts of murder, deportation
and persecution after a wave of violence swept Kenya in 2007-08, leaving at
least 1 100 dead and more than 600 000 homeless.
The violence, which laid bare simmering ethnic tensions, was
mainly directed at members of Kenya's largest Kikuyu tribe, who were perceived
as supporters of then president Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU).
Initial attacks quickly led to reprisals, with homes torched
and more people hacked to death.
The two trials are expected to be staggered, set for four
weeks at a time, so that Ruto and Kenyatta are not away from Kenya at the same
The cases have been mired in accusations of witness
intimidation, allegations dismissed by the defence even though several
witnesses pulled out.
Ruto's defence lawyer Khan on Tuesday sought to punch holes
in the prosecution's case, charging that the probe, initiated by the ICC's
previous chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, was based on lies and deception.
"The rotten underbelly of the prosecution's case has
been exposed," Khan told judges, showing the court several videos in which
Ruto is portrayed as pleading for peace after the December 2007 election.
In one video, when asked about having to come to The Hague,
Ruto said: "I have done nothing wrong. My conscience is clear."
More than 300 victims of the violence have been authorised
to participate in the proceedings against Ruto and Sang.
There is concern in Kenya that the trials could reopen old
wounds and undo reconciliation efforts by communities who once fought each
other in deadly battles.
Sang's defence is to launch its case on Thursday, while the
first prosecution witness is expected to start testimony next Tuesday.