PARIS, FRANCE —
Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta became the first sitting president to appear before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Wednesday.
The Kenyan leader attended a key hearing that may determine whether the crimes-against-humanity case against him is dropped or postponed indefinitely.
Kenyatta was greeted by cheering supporters outside the courtroom, but he remained silent during the three-hour hearing at the International Criminal Court. Instead, his defense lawyer, Steven Kay, made a vigorous argument the Kenyan leader be acquitted of the charges against him.
"He is entitled to his case of 'not guilty' because there are no further inquiries going on,” Kay said. “It is plainly not the case that was brought against him that can be sustained at all. And so when I say there is no evidence, I say deliberately, there is no evidence.
“Because if there was evidence, we would have a trial,” he said.
Kenyatta faces five counts at the Hague-based court for his alleged role in overseeing post-election violence in Kenya between 2007 and 2008. The unrest killed about 1,100 people and displaced more than 500,000 others.
Kenyatta said he is innocent.
His presence Wednesday at the ICC wraps up a two-day status hearing to determine how or whether to proceed with his trial.
The defense says the prosecution's case against Kenyatta has collapsed.
But prosecutors argue the Kenyan government has obstructed its efforts to gather evidence to build their case, including Kenyatta's phone, tax and banking records.
Prosecution lawyer Benjamin Gumpert has called for an indefinite postponement of the case, arguing that scrapping it altogether would set a worrying precedent.
"And it would not be in the interest of justice … for the court to make a ruling, which will effectively be interpreted as the court saying, 'if a country sticks out long enough, obstructing proper inquiries being made by the prosecutor ... then the case against the person that country wants to protect will go away.' And that would be a disastrous interpretation,” Gumpert said.
A lawyer for the victims of Kenya's violence, Fergal Gaynor, said if the case collapses, the victims will be the biggest losers.
"They have lost mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters,” Gaynor said. “They have been repeatedly raped, they have been set alight, they have lost small businesses in Naivasha and Nukuru. … Is it really fair to force them to pay the price for obstruction of justice by Mr. Kenyatta's government?"
Kenya Attorney General Tithu Muigai said the government has done its best to produce material requested by the prosecution, but some of the demands were impossible to meet.
The Kenyatta case is seen as a major test for the ICC, which has secured on only two convictions since it began operating in 2002.