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Kenyan President Faces Charges Of Crimes Against Humanity


The sitting president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, today went before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He's on trial for instigating a campaign of murder and violence seven years ago against thousands of Kenyans. But, as NPR's Gregory Warner reports from Nairobi, it seems that the court - not the president - was on trial.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: There's a street corner in downtown Nairobi where every afternoon, rain or shine, men gather to argue politics. It's called the Bunge La Wananchi, the people's parliament. Today all the arguments were about the president's appearance at the International Criminal Court.


WARNER: In this ethnically fractured country, the split in allegiance was easy to discern. One of these sides wants President Kenyatta to be tossed in a Dutch jail until he hands over the evidence. The phone records, the bank statements the prosecutors claim will prove he supplied money and weapons to gangs to commit murder, rape and arson after the disputed presidential election of 2007. The other side says Kenyatta's appearance in court today is triumphant. Nicholas Nduhiu is a supporter.

NICHOLAS NDUHIU: This case is ending.

WARNER: It's ending?

NDUHIU: Yes, it is totally ending. We are planning for the celebration when come back.

WARNER: Curiously, neither of the Nairobi camps, pro or against, seem to favor what they watched today on the live stream from the courtroom in The Hague as prosecutors made this request from the court.


JAMES STEWART: An indefinite adjournment.

WARNER: ICC prosecutor James Stewart asked for an indefinite adjournment of the trial against President Kenyatta.


STEWART: No date is fixed for the trial or the termination.

WARNER: This peculiar request, he argued, was justified by the...


STEWART: ...Peculiar, perhaps unique circumstances of this case.

WARNER: Never, he says, has a court had to try a sitting president - a president who cannot be compelled to turn over evidence until his own government forces him to. If that sounds like a catch-22, another prosecutor compared it to trying to discipline a CEO whose own company blocks the proceedings. But here's President Kenyatta's lawyer, Steven Kay.


STEVEN KAY: The case has failed, and it has failed in a way that means there is no prospect.

WARNER: As the rhetoric flew in the court today, it became apparent that it wasn't President Kenyatta on trial so much as the International Court itself. Kenyatta didn't even take the stand. The ICC was created in 2002 as a successor to Nuremberg with a legal mandate to prosecute the war crimes of people too powerful to face justice at home. But the court lacks political muscle, and Kenya, a key African ally in the expanding war on terror, has not faced sanctions from the West for its noncompliance. Back here in Nairobi, even some of the court's supporters dreaded more delays. Justus Nyang’aya is the country director for Amnesty International.

NYANG'AYA: The indefinite adjournment is creating a lot of tension but also concerns.

WARNER: The longer the case is dragged on, the more witnesses have been intimidated, bribed or even murdered, according to prosecutors. The evidence may not withstand more waiting.

NYANG'AYA: If the IC says he's not guilty, we'll accept it and say yes, that's good. He's not guilty. But who is guilty?

WARNER: That's the question that hundreds of thousands of victims of violence want answered, he says - not more waiting. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.