Arusha, September 10, 2013 (FH) – Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity as his trial began today at the International Criminal Court. Ruto is on trial with journalist Joshua arap Sang, who also pleaded not guilty. Both men appeared in court in The Hague in answer to a summons.

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Dressed in a grey suit and red tie, Ruto answered a simple “not guilty” to charges of murder, forcible transfer of population and persecution as crimes against humanity. Sang denied similar charges, which relate to the alleged role of the accused in 2007-2008 post election violence in their country.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the court the two men had sought to exploit tensions between ethnic groups and that Ruto “sought to seize power through violent means” because he could not do so through the ballot box.

She said the prosecution would prove beyond reasonable doubt that the attacks on Kikuyu civilians were “not just random and spontaneous acts of brutality but carefully planned and executed” by the accused and their co-perpetrators.

Bensouda said the start of trial was the “culmination of a long and difficult investigation” and that it was “something of an achievement” given the challenges her office had faced. She said many victims and witnesses were too frightened to come forward and that others had sought to withdraw. She said there was “worrying evidence of bribes” being offered to witnesses to recant.

Bensouda warned that intimidating witnesses was a serious crime and that her office was investigating. “This trial must be allowed to run its course,” she said.

At a pre-trial press conference Monday, Ruto’s defence lawyer Karim Khan said the trial was a “parody of justice” and that several prosecution witnesses were lying.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is also charged with crimes against humanity in connection with the post election violence and is due to go on trial before the ICC in November.

Kenyatta and Ruto were elected in March this year despite the charges against them.

Last week Kenyan MPs voted to withdraw from the Rome Statute, taking the country towards an ICC withdrawal. However, the ICC has reiterated that a withdrawal would not affect ongoing cases.