Billionaire controversial Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has become the first sitting president to appear before the International Criminal Court in The Hague where he faces charges of crimes against humanity.
The court had ordered Kenyatta to attend the status hearing on Wednesday, denying his request that he participate by video.
“The case is at a critical juncture, which is why I deemed appropriate to be here in person,” ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.
Almost 100 Kenyan members of parliament were present in the various public viewing galleries for the hearing on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Kenyatta invoked a never-before-used article of the constitution, handing over power temporarily to Deputy President William Ruto.
The temporary measure is Kenyatta’s way of fulfilling the court order to appear, but also insisting that he be a private citizen during the hearing.
Kenyatta faces crimes against humanity charges at The Hague-based court for allegations that he helped instigate violence that followed Kenya’s December 2007 presidential election, when more than 1,000 people were killed.
Judge Kuniko Ozaki told Kenyatta that he was present “solely in your capacity as an accused individual”.
“You may speak only in your capacity as an accused and may not make statements either of a political nature or in your official capacity,” as president, Ozaki said.
Kenyatta’s lawyer Stephen Kay said however that his client would not address the court.
“I will be answering questions on his [Kenyatta’s] behalf and he does not choose to make a statement today,” Kay said.
“Prosecution lawyers called on Wednesday for an exceptional ‘indefinite adjournment’ in the case against Uhuru Kenyatta,” he said.
“With Mr Kenyatta deciding that he will not speak personally during the Status Hearing, the prosecution made an unusual argument for keeping the case open for an indefinite period while further attempts are made to persuade the Kenyan government to co-operate with the court,” he added.
Kenyatta and Ruto, who were on opposing sides of the 2007-08 conflict, formed a political alliance that won the presidency last year and a majority in parliament after they were indicted for the crimes against humanity.
On Tuesday, international prosecutors accused the Kenyan government of failing to hand over phone and bank records they said would help them show Kenyatta paid collaborators to take part in post-election violence in 2007.
Prosecution lawyer Ben Gumpert told judges the Kenyan government had not handed over phone records and three years of bank records the prosecution needed to corroborate witness testimony that Kenyatta had approached them to “finance or ultimately coordinate that violence”.
McGregor-Woods said the prosecution will be asking Kenyatta about whether or not he is willing to co-operate with the court as they said he has not been doing so thus far.
“All along the prosecution has complained that the Kenyan government has not responded quickly enough and efficiently enough to its requests for those records, and I think that will be the line of questioning by the prosecution today,” he said.
Kenyatta’s lawyers have always dismissed the requests for his bank and telephone records as a “fishing expedition” designed to cover up for prosecutors’ lack of evidence.
“Whatever evidence we produced, further inquiries were suddenly made,” Kay said.
The repeatedly-delayed case has seen at least seven prosecution witnesses drop out, allegedly through bribes and intimidation.
Judges could decide to send the case to trial or to abandon it after the prosecution said it did not have enough evidence, although a decision is not expected on Wednesday.
About a dozen supporters had greeted Kenyatta when he arrived at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport on Tuesday, although he and his entourage left the airport via a VIP exit.