The International Criminal Court has dropped charges against one of the four alleged masterminds of the violence that followed Kenya’s elections in 2007.
The move comes after two of the other indicted men, Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, won last week’s elections.
Francis Muthaura, the former head of the civil service, had been due to stand trial in July along with Mr Kenyatta but the case against him collapsed after a key witness recanted their testimony.
“Several people who may have provided important evidence regarding Mr Muthaura’s actions, have died,” the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement. “While others are too afraid to testify for the prosecution.”
The court, which has faced a series of setbacks since launching proceedings against six people it claims were “most responsible” for the deaths of at least 1,300 people and the displacement of 600,000 more, now faces a battle for its own credibility against an elected president.
Mr Kenyatta, who hired the same political spin doctors who worked for the British chancellor George Osborne when he was in opposition, used the ICC indictment in his favour during the election campaign. With Kenya still haunted by the violence of its previous polls he presented his “Uhuruto” ticket as a guarantee of peace and accused the West of siding with his rival Raila Odinga. Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee alliance united the Kikuyu community and the Kalenjin ethnic group, who between them accounted for the bulk of the fighting last time.
The prosecutor complained that the Kenyan government had failed to provide “important evidence” and failed to “facilitate our access to critical witnesses” who may have shed light on the Muthaura case.
During her last visit to East Africa Ms Bensouda also stated publicly that she was concerned for the safety of her witnesses. The ICC enjoyed overwhelming support in Kenya in the years during much of its investigation with Nairobi’s “matatu” minibuses painted with the name of former prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo and bars in the lake city of Kisumu calling themselves “impunity” in solidarity with the attempt to prosecute the country’s political elite. However, the publicity-courting Argentine was criticised in many quarters for presenting a weak case to the pretrial judges that only narrowly persuaded them to let the trial go ahead.
President-elect Kenyatta is accused of recruiting, financing and directing criminal gangs who carried out reprisal killings, mainly in the Rift Valley, where Kikuyus had been targeted after the president, also a Kikuyu, was accused of stealing the 2007 election. His running mate William Ruto, now the vice president-elect, is due in the dock in a separate case due to start in May.