JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – President Mwai Kibaki signed Kenya’s new constitution Friday, describing the occasion as the greatest day since independence in 1963. But the presence of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, brought controversy to the event.
Bashir defied an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court to accept the Kenyan government’s invitation, dismaying human rights observers. Kenya is obliged to arrest Bashir as a signatory to the Rome Statute, which established the court.
Newspapers called the new constitution the birth of the Second Republic. Thousands of Kenyans gathered at Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi to watch the ceremony, cheering as Kibaki held the constitution aloft and slowly turned full circle so all could see.
“Today is a great day for Kenya. This is the most important day in the history of our nation since independence,” said Kibaki, who campaigned strongly for the constitution. The document received more than 70 percent support from voters in a referendum earlier this month.
The constitution, which replaces one that had been in effect since independence, was written as part of a 2008 power-sharing deal a year after violence and accusations of fraud marked a bitter presidential election that saw Kibaki declared the winner over Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who also campaigned for the constitution.
Critics said extending an invitation to Bashir undermined the principles of good governance and accountability that the new constitution is supposed to enshrine. Bashir’s arrest warrant relates to atrocities by Sudanese troops in the western Sudan region of Darfur, where 300,000 people have died.