International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Kenyans’ Domestic Perception of the ICC

Since arrest warrants were issued for Kenyan President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto in 2011, there has been much debate about Kenyan public perception of the International Criminal Court’s intervention.  In 2007 and 2008 political violence surrounding President Kenyatta’s election ensued– over 1,000 people were killed, over 3,000 were injured, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced.  The ICC’s decision to investigate these crimes now serves as one of the key points African Union states point to in their criticism of the ICC’s alleged “Africa bias.” Leaders from many African nations, but in particular from Kenya and Uganda, accuse the court of unfairly targeting Africans in its investigations and prosecutions.  Kenyatta’s case is one of two in which an active head of state has been indicted by the court– the other is an indictment of Sudanese President al-Bashir. Although Kenyatta seems largely to be cooperating with the ICC, his fellow leaders continue to be critical and outright hostile towards the court. A somewhat less examined topic is public perception of the ICC’s decision to intervene. uhuru+ruto+cabinet

According to recent reports, Kenyan public perception is split. An “element of fatigue” seems to be prevalent among Kenyans.  They are tired of what has become a 6 year investigation process. Most surprising, however, is that this “fatigue” is present even among victims of the violence. They are, “accepting the narrative purveyed by national leaders – that they should accept what had happened and move on.”  There is not public consensus, however, that justice and reconciliation are unnecessary. Many advocate for “justice in whatever form,” including, especially, mechanisms for reconciliation.  Indeed, because the alleged perpetrators are still in power, there is no question that victims must continue to live within the system orchestrated by those who committed crimes against them and their families. Potential public fatigue with the ICC and criminal prosecutions, as well as the entrenched power of alleged perpetrators, point to a severe need for serious reconciliatory justice.

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2 responses to “Kenyans’ Domestic Perception of the ICC

  1. tjojojojo March 10, 2014 at 2:39 am

    Six years of investigation is unsurprisingly a very exhausting process, and I think the public fatigue issue is one that underlies many of the attempts by the ICC to investigate criminals (perhaps most notably, Kony and the LRA). With so many people who just want justice in some form without sacrificing peace, reconciliatory justice in theory sounds like the preferable strategy. But would this mean a movement away from ICC prosecution or ad hoc criminal tribunals to something along the lines of a Truth Commission? This might sound very appealing to Kenyans, but I imagine many international justice hardliners would want a more prosecutorial route. Taking the pressure off of Kenya’s national leaders allows for the possibility of letting them off lightly, which scholars like Sikkink might find repulsive.

    Furthermore, the ICC might feel that they have already committed to Kenya’s case. With so much time and effort already spent, I wonder if the ICC would be resistant to leaving without having prosecuted the lead perpetrators. While the interests of the Kenyan people ought to be at the heart of any decision to either halt or continue the current investigation, the reputation of the ICC itself is especially on the line in this case. But what sort of reconcilatory justice could the Kenyan government provide? Any effective tribunal requires the support of the government, but if the current government itself is responsible for the atrocities, how viable is a non-ICC investigation?

  2. thewendyway March 14, 2014 at 10:25 am

    The government’s role in Kenya’s past atrocities reminds me of a similar situation in which South Africa’s non-ICC reconciliation actions struggled to address the government’s institutionalized human rights violations (apartheid). Given the failure of the South African TRC to address the crimes of their own government, I believe that a non-ICC investigation on the Kenyan government run by the Kenyan government is doomed to fail.

    Furthermore, I believe that the “public fatigue” that tjojojojo brings up could be remedied best by state actions focusing on economic and social reform. As Daly’s article highlights, many victims living in post-conflict societies also deal with extreme poverty. To them, a truth commission or justice for criminals is a luxury as they are more concerned with the everyday struggle to put food on the table, pay for schooling, etc. I think what would be most appealing to Kenyans would be government actions that address these material needs, not criminal tribunals or truth commissions. Of course there is limited data on public opinion of victims in post-conflict societies, but I would guess that this “public fatigue” has as much to do with the lack of economic/social reform as it does the lengthy investigative process. The article states that the public wants to “accept what had happened and move on.” Perhaps that implies that the public wants to shift the nation’s focus from a foreign, imposed justice to focusing on the local problems of social poverty.

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