THE HAGUE (AFP) – The International Criminal Court on Thursday postponed Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial on charges of crimes against humanity by three months to February next year.
Kenyatta is accused of masterminding some of the 2007-8 post-election violence in Kenya that left over 1,000 people dead and several hundred thousand displaced.
The Hague-based tribunal said in a statement it “decided to postpone the trial’s commencement in the case against Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta to 5 February 2014″.
The decision came after Kenyatta’s lawyers asked for a delay to his trial, which had been due to start on November 12 after already being repeatedly delayed, and the prosecution said they had no objection.
His lawyers last week asked for the trial to be postponed, citing the “national and international crisis” triggered by last month’s deadly siege at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre.
Prosecutors then said that while they did not accept that Kenyatta’s “presidential duties are a reason to delay the trial,” they would also like a delay in order to be able to present witnesses in the order they want.
The court “expressed its deep regret that repeated adjournments of the trial have been necessary because one or both parties have required more time to prepare,” the statement said.
Both parties should “accelerate their preparation in order to ensure that no further postponements are required,” it added.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had said that if the trial were postponed, it should start instead on February 3, 2014, while the defence has asked for a delay until February 12, 2014.
Kenyatta, who was elected president in March, has long argued that his trial would hamper his running of the country.
His lawyers argued that last month’s militant attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall by Al-Qaeda-linked militants in which at least 67 people died meant he was urgently needed at home.
The attack was carried out by neighbouring Somalia’s Shebab, which has threatened to launch further attacks.
Kenya’s Vice President William Ruto went on trial at the ICC last month on similar charges.
The court has been caught up in accusations that it is targeting African leaders, with the African Union calling for immunity for heads of state and asking the UN Security Council to suspend ICC proceedings against Kenya’s leaders for a year.