Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court last week ruled that Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto must attend all sessions of his trial unless specifically excused.
This stance goes against the wishes of the African Union (AU) and Kenya that Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta would face trial after their stint in office.
The two leaders were accused of orchestrating a wave of violence after a 2007 election in Kenya.
“The absence of the accused can only take place in exceptional circumstances and must not become the rule,” ICC president Sang-Hyun Song ruled, overturning a decision that had promised to defuse growing tension between the court and Kenya and its allies in Africa.
Trial judges later granted Ruto permission to miss the first three days of next week, after his lawyers said he would be needed at home to fill in for Kenyatta, who will be in Rwanda for a regional summit.
Ruto could still stay away from court for much of his trial, but judges will need to authorize each absence. That decision was hailed as “pragmatic” by a lawyer for the victims of the violence, which killed 1,200 people and uprooted tens of thousands from their homes in early 2008.
Ruto’s lawyer, Karim Khan, pledged that Ruto would continue to cooperate with the court. But a Ruto ally speaking from Kenya’s capital Nairobi condemned the ruling as “political” and said he would push on with plans to have Kenya quit the court.
Judges last week gave Kenyatta blanket leave to be excused from most of his trial on similar charges, easing a dispute with the AU, which had urged him to boycott the court and asked the U.N. Security Council to defer his trial.