“To protect the sovereignty of the Kenyan republic, I now take the extraordinary and unprecedented step of evoking article 1473 of the constitution and I will shortly issue the legal notice necessary to appoint honourable William Ruto, the deputy president, as acting president while I attend the status conference at The Hague in the Netherlands," he told an extraordinary session of the Kenyan parliament. His speech was broadcast live on Kenyan TV channels.
Kenyatta, who was elected in March 2013, is charged with crimes against humanity committed in violence that followed elections at the end of 2007. He protests his innocence.
Early last week, the ICC rejected a request from the Kenyan President not to appear in person at Wednesday’s hearing. The judges stressed the importance of this status conference.
The hearing will focus notably on the state of cooperation between the prosecution and the Kenyan government, according to the ICC.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda accuses the Kenyan authorities of withholding certain documents that she deems necessary to establish evidence against Kenyatta. Nairobi says it is cooperating fully.
A judicial sagaOn August 28, the Court ordered Bensouda’s team to confirm whether they were ready to start the trial on October 7 as scheduled.
On September 5, the Prosecutor asked for the trial to be postponed, saying the Kenyan government had still not produced all the documents she requested in April.
Five days later, Kenyatta’s lawyers asked for the case to be dropped, saying Bensouda’s evidence did not stand up.
The case has already seen plenty of twists and turns. This is the second time the Prosecutor has asked for a postponement of the trial, which was first set to start on February 5. Her first request in December 2013 came after one prosecution witness said he was no longer willing to testify and another said he had given false evidence.
The prosecution is facing not only the withdrawal of witnesses but also strong pressure from some African leaders.
Since Kenyatta and his Deputy President William Ruto were elected -- despite the ICC accusations against them --, the African Union has mobilized, claiming that serving leaders of their rank should not be prosecuted by the ICC.
But the young Kenyan President has made the opposite choice for Wednesday because, according to analysts, he is hoping his lawyers can persuade the Court to drop his case for lack of evidence.
Uhuru Kenyatta will not be the only high ranking Kenyan official in court on Wednesday. Some one hundred parliamentarians from his country have already requested and obtained visas to accompany him to the ICC’s seat in The Hague.