Uhuru Kenyatta’s lawyers on Wednesday called for judges in The Hague to acquit the Kenyan president of charges against humanity as he appeared for pretrial hearings before the International Criminal Court.
Prosecution attorney Benjamin Gumpert countered that “a considerable body of material … could have been provided, should have been provided and … hasn’t been provided,” referring to evidence like Kenyatta’s financial records and mobile phone data.
Nine people have testified that Kenyatta took part in planning violence following disputed elections in 2007, Gumpert said. He accused the Kenyan government of obstructing justice and said Kenyatta was “constitutionally responsible” as head of state.
“The rights of the accused must not trump above all others,” chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.
Victims’ lawyer Fergal Gaynor said they “lost their families, they got raped, deported” and received “next to nothing as compensation from the government.” He also accused the Kenyan government of intimidating potential witnesses.
Dressed in a dark suit, Kenyatta attentively followed the proceedings.
The 52-year-old president is the first head of state to come before the ICC. He has appeared at The Hague-based tribunal before, but not after he became president.
A court hearing has been called on Thursday to set a date for Kenyatta’s trial or to shelve the proceedings.
On arrival in court, the president had been accompanied by more than 120 Kenyan legislators. He was also cheered by dozens of supporters wearing traditional African clothes and displaying placards demanding his “release.”
Deputy President William Ruto has taken charge of the government in Nairobi during Kenyatta’s absence.
Both Kenyatta and Ruto face charges of organizing mass ethnic violence following the disputed 2007 election, when the two were on opposite sides of the political divide.
Ruto, a member of the Kalenjin ethnic group, was allied with opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo. Kenyatta is a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group.
Odinga accused Kikuyu president Mwai Kibaki – supported by Kenyatta – of rigging his way back to power in those elections.
The political riots descended into ethnic killings of the Kikuyu who then retaliated, plunging Kenya into a spiral of violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and half a million displaced.
Kenyatta and Ruto joined forces for the 2013 elections and won by presenting themselves as national unifiers.
Ruto’s trial at the ICC has already begun and he has appeared in court.
Kenyatta faces charges of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and deportation.
The president told parliament on Monday that he was innocent and expressed confidence that the case would be terminated.
He said he would appear in court as a private person, since he was charged before he became president and his status as head of state was not on trial.