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Charges Of Crimes Against Humanity Dropped Against Kenyan Leader

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There was a setback today for the International Criminal Court. The ICC's first case of crimes against humanity, leveled against a sitting head of state, ended with the prosecutor dropping all charges. Those charges were against Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta. The case was supposed to show that even the highest office confers no immunity from war crimes. NPR's Gregory Warner reports on what went wrong.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: In the end, it came down to evidence. The prosecution had asked for the president's personal phone and bank records. It's said that they would show he had a role in instigating and funding some of Kenya's deadly ethnic violence seven years ago. But the government of Kenya did not turn over those records. The court, though it found Kenya noncompliant, could not make them comply. Mwalimu Mati of Kenyan NGO Mars Group Kenya says the judges in The Hague faced an unusually powerful defendant.

MWALIMU MATI: He is not your typical war criminal.

WARNER: Uhuru Kenyatta is a member of one of Africa's wealthiest and most influential families. He hired a crack legal defense team and, outside the court, proved adept at using the Kenyan media and diplomatic meetings to exploit growing anti-Western sentiment in what used to be one of the most reliably pro-Western corners of the world.

MATI: The African elite, as it were, doesn't like the idea of the International Criminal Court having any jurisdiction over presidents.

WARNER: Leslie Lefkow, country director of Humans Rights Watch, said that supporters of the ICC focused on the legal process may have misjudged the political savvy of the Kenyan president.

LESLIE LEFKOW: To turn this into an ICC versus Africa narrative.

WARNER: Kenyatta even won last year's presidential election on the back of the ICC. He spun the charges against him as a foreign insult on Kenyan autonomy. With his case now cleared, the court turns to Vice President William Ruto, also on the docket for war crimes. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.