Kenyatta excused from certain ICC trial sessions

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose trial for alleged crimes against humanity is due to start next month, is excused from attending certain court sessions, a majority of judges at the International Criminal Court ruled on Friday.

The decision comes a week after the African Union decided that sitting heads of state should not have to appear before the world's only permanent court for war crimes.

Kenyatta had requested that he be allowed to participate in the trial, which is due to start November 12 in The Hague, via video link.

The Kenyan president's deputy, William Ruto, whose trial on similar crimes against humanity charges started in September, had also made such a request but was rejected.

Both deny accusations that they orchestrated ethnic violence after the disputed 2007 election that left more than 1,000 dead and displaced half a million people.

With one judge dissenting, the majority of the ICC trial chamber ruled that Kenyatta must still attend all opening and closing statements, hearings when victims testify and the verdict.

"Violations of any conditions of Mr Kenyatta's excusal may result in revocation of the partially granted request, and/or the issuance of an arrest warrant," the court said in a statement.

The judges said the move was made to allow Kenyatta to perform his duties as president.

The AU last weekend decided that the open cases of heads of state before the ICC, including the Kenyans and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, should be deferred until after the finish their terms.

Kenyatta and Ruto were elected to office in March, despite warnings from Western officials that the move could lead to diplomatic consequences. So far, the two leaders have cooperated with the court.

An arrest warrant was issued for al-Bashir in 2009. He has been at the helm of Sudan since taking over the country in 1989. The ICC prosecutor has charged him with counts of genocide over the conflict in Darfur.

The court relies on member states to arrest al-Bashir, but so far he has managed to elude being handed over to the ICC, though his travel abroad has been somewhat restricted.

The ICC is facing criticism from African leaders who feel the court is unfairly focused on the continent. All eight cases open at the court in The Netherlands are African.

Some officials have likened the court to a mechanism of colonialism.

However, there are also voices in Africa, including South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who have advocated for full cooperation with the ICC, saying victims of crimes deserve justice, which is not being served in local courts. –Sapa-dpa

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