Judges at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday threw out post-election violence charges against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto, giving him a major boost as he prepares to make another run for office in elections next year.
In a complex ruling on Tuesday, ICC judges declared that there was no case for Ruto and his co-accused, broadcaster Joshua Sang, to answer.
The two were accused of fomenting murderous inter-ethnic violence in Kenya after the 2007 elections in the country, leading to some 1,200 deaths. A similar case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta collapsed last year.
“This decision brings to a close what has been a nightmare for my nation,” Kenyatta said in a speech welcoming the decision. “Our country is fully back on focus to enhance our efforts towards nation building, promoting peace and security.”
Judges halted the trial before Ruto’s defence lawyers opened their case, ruling that prosecutors had failed to marshal enough incriminating evidence, but the three judges were divided on whether to acquit, continue the case or declare a mistrial.
The decision was a blow to prosecutors at the court who have seen their highest-profile cases evaporate under heavy political pressure from Kenya and its African Union allies. They had accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans.
Set up in 2002, the ICC has struggled to enforce its will in countries that are reluctant to cooperate with it. Powerful indictees like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and guerrilla leader Joseph Kony remain at large.
But the absence of an acquittal in the Ruto and Sang cases means the ICC is free to bring fresh charges in future. The judges said on Tuesday that their task had been made impossible by political interference and efforts in Kenya to threaten prosecution witnesses into silence.
Kenya’s Citizen Television showed crowds cheering in Ruto’s electoral heartland of Eldoret in reaction to the ruling, which followed a similar withdrawal of charges against Kenyatta.
The three judges in the case were deeply divided over how to proceed, with presiding judge Chile Eboe-Usuji writing in a separate opinion that a mistrial had taken place.
“Declaration of mistrial and allowing the case to start afresh in the future is better than rewarding the interference and political meddling with a verdict of acquittal,” he said.
Another judge, Robert Fremr, wrote that Ruto should have been acquitted, while the third, Olga Herrera Carbuccia, wrote that the trial should have proceeded until the reaching of a verdict.