Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s former finance minister and presidential hopeful and three others, have denied the charges and claimed the court did not have the right to try them.
The four must now stand trial over accusations of being behind the violence that killed at least 1,220 people. There was no immediate reaction from the accused or their lawyers.
Analysts said the decision will be a test to the Kenyan government on whether it will cooperate with the war crimes court, and will also impact on the upcoming polls in a country where a political elite has long been considered above the law.
“It was inevitable … Now it’s down to the government to behave with decorum and common sense and not play fast and loose with the national interest. It is our government’s reaction which is key now,” independent analyst Aly Khan Satchu said.
“One part of the government has been on a wild goose chase for eternity (to block the Hague trials), why should they stop now?”
Kenya insists it will cooperate with the ICC, and the suspects have said they will comply with the court, but the government is critical of the war crimes court and supportive of the Sudanese president who has avoided an ICC arrest warrant.
Kenyatta and William Ruto, the former higher education minister, are charged with directing mob violence that sent east Africa’s biggest economy to the brink of civil war.
The other men charged with Kenyatta and Ruto are the head of the civil service, Francis Muthaura, and radio presenter Joshua arap Sang.
Analysts say the electoral hopes of 50-year-old Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, and Ruto, could be damaged if he were to stand trial, which could knock them out of the race if the date is set before the polls.
Kenyatta and Ruto have joined forces against Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who leads opinion polls in the presidential race to replace the retiring Mwai Kibaki, followed by Kenyatta.
In April, Kibaki successfully lobbied fellow presidents in the East African Community to pass a resolution to extend the jurisdiction of the Tanzania-based East Africa Court of Justice to cover crimes against humanity.
Failure to cooperate with the ICC would concern foreign investors and Western governments, which want Kenya to combat impunity ahead of the next elections.
“If you look at the behaviour of some politicians, it points at non-cooperation with the ICC. I think non-cooperation is something they have contemplated, but this would come at a very high cost to the country, including even economic sanctions,” political commentator Kwamchetsi Makokha said.
“I think the ruling today severely punctures the election campaign momentum of Kenyatta and Ruto.” Reuters