The third witness to take the stand in the trial of Kenyan deputy president William Ruto and former broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang testified this week about the horrific scenes she saw during the electoral violence that hit the country in late 2007 and early 2008.
Speaking about events in the Rift Valley region, the protected witness – known only as PO189 – recounted seeing severed heads hung on sticks, corpses eaten by dogs, and houses razed to the ground.
“In Langas there were chopped heads and they were planted on sticks,” the witness, whose testimony was given with measures to distort her voice and image, told the three-judge panel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
“Most of the houses were not burnt, but there was looting, like shops were broken into.”
These events took place in Langas, an area near the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, which the witness said was mainly inhabited by members of the Kikuyu and Luo ethnic groups at the time of the unrest.
Ruto and Sang are accused of orchestrating the bloodshed that engulfed Kenya in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 presidential election. More than 1,100 people lost their lives and 650,000 others were forcibly displaced from their homes during two months of political and ethnic violence.
Prosecutors allege that Ruto’s opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) planned attacks against supporters of the Party of National Unity (PNU) with the objective of forcibly expelling them from Rift Valley province.
In the Rift Valley, the Kalenjin broadly backed the ODM in the 2007 election, whereas Kikuyus voted mainly for the PNU.
Sang stands accused of using his radio programme on KASS FM to drum up support and coordinate the attacks.
The crimes charged relate to the period after PNU candidate Mwai Kibaki was elected president for a second term.
The defendants face charges of murder, persecution and forcible population displacement.
In a separate case, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta is to stand trial on similar charges.
Relating the events at the village of Kahuhia near the town of Eldoret, the witness said she saw 20 to 30 dead bodies lying on the ground. Some of them had been partially eaten by dogs and pigs.
“In Kahuhia, there were bodies all over, rotten and eaten by pigs. The ones eaten by dogs were around five to six. The rest of the bodies were around ten to 20. The buildings around were also burnt,” she said.
The witness was a member of the Eldoret branch of a political lobby group called Warembo na Kibaki, which supported the then president Kibaki.
It was not clear from the public sections of her testimony exactly when the witness visited the places described.
The witness recounted how she saw more dead bodies in the town of Kimumu, at the Kiambaa church, and in Kahuhia.
“Upon arriving in Kiambaa, the church was a shell and we would see the mattresses and burnt bottles and then there was that wheelchair where a woman perished,” the witness said. “The mattresses were just at the entrance of the church. The mattresses were burnt completely.”
A previous witness testified that assailants set fire to mattresses in order to burn down the Kiambaa church, where people had taken refuge, on January 1, 2008.
This week’s witness went on to describe the scene at a mortuary in Eldoret, where saw bodies piled on top of one another. At the town’s hospital, she saw people with burns, deep cuts and arrows still projecting from wounds.
“People with arrows were mixed with the ones with deep panga [machete] cuts,” the witness said. “The ones who had [injuries caused by] arrows – the majority of them were Kikuyus. The ward was crowded, they were all in one room. They would share wards, and there were so many others who would sleep on the floor.”
She recalled how more than 200 houses belonging to Kikuyus had been burnt and other property destroyed in the town of Kimumu.
“The rental properties had been broken into; there was scattered clothing all over. There was also a maize store – it was broken into, there was maize all over the place,” she said.
Following the witness’s evidence, a member of Ruto’s defence team challenged her account of events and tried to highlight inconsistencies in her testimony.
Defence lawyer Shyamala Alagendra claimed that the witness had misled the court about events both in the run-up to and after the December 2007 election.
Under cross-examination, the witness contradicted her previous testimony that houses in Kimumu were burnt. In response to Alagendra’s questioning, she said houses in the town had not been burnt, but that there had been wanton destruction of property and massive looting of the shops in the area.
The defence also sought to discredit the witness’ account of how the violence began.
In the examination-in-chief, the witness had told the court that the incumbent Kibaki, who had just been awarded a second term, was sworn in as president at night. But the defence played a video of the swearing-in ceremony which showed that the event took place shortly before nightfall.
Ruto’s defence also sought to advance the argument that their client had been falsely implicated in the electoral violence by senior members of the PNU.
The witness agreed with Alagendra when she put it to her that senior members of Kibaki’s government had planned to incriminate Ruto “regardless of the truth”.
Asked by Alagendra whether she had heard that the officials “wanted to fix him [Ruto] even though he had nothing to do with it” the witness replied, “Yes”.
Alagendra went on to name eight senior officials, including Kenya’s principal secretary for the interior ministry, Mutea Iringo, senior presidential adviser Nancy Gitau and former justice minister Martha Karua as being part of the alleged scheme.
The witness said she was unaware of the scheme.
Alagendra put it to the witness that these PNU officials gathered evidence on the bloodshed which they later presented to the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence, a body led by Kenyan judge Philip Waki to investigate the violence.
The lawyer also claimed that the officials had coached and bribed witnesses who gave evidence against Ruto to the Commission.
But witness PO189 said she was not aware of this.
JJ Wangui is an IWPR reporter in Nairobi.
This article was produced as part of a media development programme implemented by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation.