The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor dropped all crimes-against-humanity charges against Kenya's president on Friday, highlighting the court's problems in bringing to justice the high-ranking officials it has accused of atrocities.
Judges at the Hague-based court on Wednesday gave the prosecution a week to decide whether to proceed with their case against Uhuru Kenyatta, who they accused of provoking ethnic violence after Kenya’s 2007 election, or to withdraw charges.
"The evidence has not improved to such an extent that Mr. Kenyatta's alleged criminal responsibility can be proven," prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a court filing on Friday.
The court did not, however, acquit Kenyatta of the charges, as his lawyers had requested. That means the charges could be brought against him again in the future if more evidence becomes available.
The cases against Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, who faced similar charges, are the highest-profile proceedings since the court was established in 2002 to try cases concerning grave international crimes that local courts cannot handle.
Kenyatta had been charged with murder, rape, persecution, deportation and other inhumane acts as an "indirect co-perpetrator" in violence that flared after Kenya's 2007 elections and left more than 1,000 people dead.
Fergal Gaynor, counsel for the victims, said in a statement that the withdrawal of the charges would disappoint the estimated 20,000 victims of the crimes charged in this case.
"It is regrettable that the victims have received almost nothing from the entire ICC process," Gaynor said.
The collapse of the case is a new blow to the credibility of the court's prosecution office. The office has launched nine full investigations since its establishment – all of them in Africa – and has just seven suspects in custody.
Kenyatta's trial was postponed twice this year while prosecutors attempted to shore up their case after a key prosecution witness refused to testify and another admitted giving false evidence.
Kenyatta was indicted in 2011 but went on to become the president of Kenya in the 2013 election, using his indictment at the Hague-based court as a rallying issue. His government lobbied hard to have the case against him deferred by the U.N. Security Council, arguing that the delay was essential because Kenya needed its leader to help fight Al-Shabab militants in neighboring Somalia and at home.
The collapse of the case against Kenyatta underscores some of the limitations of the international court, which has no police force and must rely on help from governments that may only wish to cooperate when it suits their political purposes.
Al Jazeera and wire services