Arusha, October 1, 2014 (FH) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday rejected a request from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta asking permission not to personally attend a hearing on October 8 to prepare his crimes against humanity trial.

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The judges said a majority of them deemed that the physical presence of the accused was necessary in the interests of justice. They also stressed that this status conference was an important step in the procedures. 

In an “urgent request” on September 25, Kenyatta’s defence had argued that the Kenyan head of state could be adequately represented by his lawyers.

Otherwise they asked that the hearing be postponed and that the President be permitted to appear by videoconference.

Kenyatta’s lawyers argued that on October 8 Kenyatta, as current president of the East African Community (EAC), is due to chair a regional summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

“The meeting deals with economic development and regional security issues,” said his British lawyers Steven Kay and Gillian Higgins.

Their arguments did not convince the court, which ordered Kenyatta to be present in person for the status conference on October 8 to determine the state of advancement of trial preparations.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda accuses the Kenyan authorities of failing to provide certain key documents that she needs for her evidence.  Nairobi claims that it is cooperating fully.

Uhuru Kenyatta, who has always protested his innocence, is charged with crimes against humanity committed during violence that followed elections at the end of 2007.

Under an amendment to the ICC’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence adopted in November 2013, certain accused persons may, with the judges’ authorization, appear before the Court by videoconference.

An accused person who has been summoned may submit a written request for authorization to appear by videoconference for part or parts of the trial.

This amendment also provides that when examining such a request, the judges should recognize the special status of an accused person such as Kenyatta who has a mandate to perform “exceptional public duties”.

This change to the Rules was made at the request of the African Union, which crossed swords with the ICC after the Court indicted Kenyatta and his Deputy President William Ruto.