Last week, Voice of America reported on a request from Rwanda to address the International Criminal Court in the trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
Minister of Justice Busingye Johnston told VOA that Rwanda, a non-member of the ICC, believes it “can be of use to the court in terms of the interpretation of certain aspects regarding scheduling and the approach of the court to the planning and scheduling of matters”. He clarified that his comments should not be taken as a signal that Rwanda intends to join the court.
Rwanda’s request relates to Deputy President Ruto’s motion to be excused from some of the proceedings in his trial. (Apparently he’s got some kind of important job back in Kenya that he needs to be present for or something.)
The Trial Chamber granted the request for excusal, with the restriction that Ruto must be present in the courtroom for certain key moments in the trial. But ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has appealed the ruling, arguing that Article 63 of the Rome Statute “[t]he accused shall be present during the trial” clearly requires his presence.
(This is a bit tricky of her, actually. Generally, we think of requirement of the accused’s presence as one of the fair trial rights of the defendant. The prohibition on trials in absentia provides protection against being convicted without the opportunity to defend yourself. But here, the defendant is trying to waive that right and the prosecutor is objecting, citing the plain language of the Rome Statute.)
According to The Star, Rwanda is one of a whopping 16 African states wishing to address the court in response to Bensouda’s appeal. All of them are encouraging a “broad and flexible interpretation” of Art. 63. (Shocker: 100% of African leaders surveyed prefer that the ICC defer to African leaders.) Thus far, the ICC has granted 5 of the requests, including Rwanda’s.
Interestingly, The Star also quotes Busingye as stating that “handling these concerns would help Rwanda decide whether to or not join the ICC.” So, stay tuned?