Kenya’s vice-president William Ruto has denied orchestrating post-election violence in 2007.
Ruto, appearing at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder, persecution and forcible transfer of people.
The clashes left 1,200 people dead and forced 600,000 from their homes.
Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, also accused of orchestrating the violence, will go on trial in separate proceedings later this year.
Being tried alongside Ruto is journalist Arap Sang, who faces the same charges. He denies involvement in orchestrating the violence.
The trials are unprecedented and the proceedings will be closely followed, said an ICC monitor.
“So this will be the first time that, for instance, the deputy president will be in court saying, ‘I understand the charges and I plead not guilty’, for instance.
“And for Kenya that will be a huge moment because it will be the first time that a senior government official at that level will be in court taking a plea in a criminal case. Never happened before,” said Tom Maliti from the ICC monitor Kenya.
In a move termed by critics as the latest effort in a long campaign to counter the court’s processes to indict the Kenyan suspects, Kenya’s parliament voted on September 5 to quit the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
The ICC’s first trial of a sitting president is viewed as the biggest test to date for an institution that has faced mounting criticism in Kenya and across Africa, where it is accused of bias as all the suspects to date have been Africans.
Support for the process, which once had broad backing in Kenya, has been eroded since the peaceful vote in March this year that elected Kenyatta, the son of the country’s founding leader.
Parliament, dominated by the alliance that brought him to power, voted in favour of telling the government to withdraw from the ICC.
Since Kenyatta and Ruto’s election the government has called to have the trials dropped or brought closer to home and sought to drum up opposition among fellow Africans.