Kenyan leader cites Cameron's human rights attack as he fights charges in the Hague

Call to justice? UK human rights attack observed overseas
Call to justice? UK human rights attack observed overseas
Ian Dunt By

We knew it was coming, although the speed is surprising. On Monday October 6th, just days after Chris Grayling published Tory plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, a foreign leader was already using them to defend himself against charges of crimes against humanity.

In a speech to the national assembly and the senate, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta cited David Cameron's human rights attack, in what he framed as a global battle between national sovereignty and over-enthusiastic courts. Ring any bells? The language may have been more colourful, but the core argument was the same as what we heard at the Tory party conference a few weeks ago.

Two days later Kenyatta would become the first serving head of state to appear before the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of crimes against humanity.

Kenyatta, who is accused of unleashing a wave of post-election violence during 2007 and 2008 which claimed 1,300 lives, has already received support from the African Union, which feels the court disproportionately targets Africans.


The Kenyan president's speech mapped out a pattern of concerns about the role of international courts over national sovereignty. Kenyatta said numerous authorities had raised concerns when the treaty of Rome created the ICC. They were worried about "the risks of undermining the sovereign equality of states and "these concerns remain valid to this day".

He went on to cite African Union efforts to safeguard serving heads of states and governments from human rights charges. And then he propped up his argument with the behaviour of the British prime minister.

He said:

"The push to defend sovereignty is not unique to Kenya or Africa. Very recently, the prime minister of the United Kingdom committed to reasserting the sovereign primacy of his parliament over the decision of the European Human Rights Court. He has even threatened to quit that court."

It's not the first time. Take Oleksandr Volkov, a judge in the Ukrainian supreme court, who was found by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have been dismissed unfairly by the government last year.

Article six, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, was violated in four separate ways, not least because of the lack of independence and impartiality shown by the high council of justice – the body responsible for appointing and dismissing judges. It also found evidence of MPs casting multiple votes when the matter was debated in the national parliament.

The ECHR demanded that Volkov be reinstated. It was ignored by the regime. The chair of the high council said:

"Great Britain would very much like to leave the European convention on human rights."

It was a shameful moment which provided further evidence of how Britain's treatment of human rights will bolster those around the world who aspire to dismantle them.

As shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told the Guardian at the time:

"The Ukraine government is saying: 'You know what? We don't really care. If someone like the UK, the beacon of human rights, can say two fingers to the European court, why can't we?' We now have a real example of one of the emerging democracies saying if the UK can do it, so can we."

The Conservatives are setting a shameful precedent in international politics. Britain has never been very interested in international affairs, so it will have little notion of the warmth with which an attack on human rights will be received in some of the more questionable capitals of the world.

Be that as it may, it was welcomed. And it will continue to be welcomed, by those who are not our friends.

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