Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A prosecution witness in the trial of Kenya’s deputy president told the International Criminal Court (ICC) this week that he witnessed what he believed were organised arson attacks during post-election violence six years ago.
The witness, known only by the reference number PO508, also testified that members of the Kikuyu ethnic group were forced to defend themselves from attack, but did not act as aggressors.
Deputy President William Ruto is on trial on charges of orchestrating violence that hit Kenya following a disputed presidential election result in December 2007.
He and former broadcaster, Joshua Arap Sang, are standing trial together for murder, persecution and forcible population transfer as crimes against humanity.
More than 1,100 people died and 3,500 others were injured in fighting which brought Kenya to its knees and forced approximately 650,000 people from their homes.
Political violence between supporters of the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) quickly took on an ethnic dimension, too. Members of the Kikuyu ethnic group broadly backed the PNU in the election, while members of the Kalenjin, Luo, and Luhya communities voted predominantly for the ODM.
The Ruto/Sang trial resumed on March 31 after a three-week recess.
The witness told the panel of judges that after the election result was announced, Kalenjin youths dressed in red “shukas” (pieces of cloth) and t-shirts organised themselves to attack villages and burn houses in the western Rift Valley region.
He said they daubed their faces with red soil and were armed with traditional weapons.
“They were divided into three groups and located on three locations,” the witness told the court. “The youths used to sit in open spaces at three locations… their movement showed there was someone in control, either through the phone or through signals we could not understand.”
The witness said after setting fire to the houses, the youths would retreat and a second group would then get together to launch another attack.
“One group would move as the others wait,” the witness said. “This system meant someone was in control or a phone was used… this is my conclusion.”
Much of PO508’s testimony was given in closed session to protect his identity.
Continuing his evidence, the witness said that during the violence he saw six decomposing bodies lying in a field being eaten by dogs and pigs in Huruma, an area of the Rift Valley town of Eldoret.
The witness said he saw the bodies while escorting his wife from an unidentified location to Huruma.
“I could not identify the bodies since they had been badly mutilated,” he said. “I moved on and later I met police removing roadblocks and asked them why they were not removing the bodies…. they told me they were tired of picking [up] the bodies.”
While answering questions from the prosecution, the witness said some of the bodies bore machete wounds while others appeared to have been hit with blunt objects.
The witness said he concealed his own identity for fear of being killed by Kalenjin who were manning roadblocks in the area. He told the court that when he came to one such roadblocks, he did not produce his identification card as he thought he would be murdered.
“I told them my ID had been stolen… they let me pass,” he told the court.
He recounted that one Kikuyu individual, identified only as No. 4 in court, was hacked to death at a location described as Number Six by lawyers. He told the court that the man was slashed with a machete. Two days later, the man’s body was discovered with no hands.
Asked whether he had recognised some of the attackers, the witness said it was difficult since a number of attacks happened during night.
According to the witness, the attacks were carried out to punish Kikuyus for not voting for the ODM’s candidate, Raila Odinga, in the presidential election.
Responding to a question from the presiding judge, Chile Eboe-Osuji, the witness said Kikuyus had to throw stones at their attackers to prevent them from burning their houses down. This was because they had not been prepared for the attacks, he said.
“The Kalenjin youths were armed with pangas [machete], rungus [clubs] and arrows,” he said. “We fought them with stones to stop them from burning houses. In some instances, we overpowered them… they ran away and did not fulfil their mission.”
The witness said that after several houses had been set on fire, some residents sought refuge at Eldoret’s police station. He said the majority of those who took shelter there were Kikuyu.
Although the witness did not mention the accused in relation to the attacks, Ruto’s lawyer Essa Faal used his cross-examination to challenge PO508’s theory of how the attacks unfolded.
Judge Eboe-Osuji warned Faal that “it can be dangerous to cross-examine a witness who has done you no harm”, although he subsequently revised that statement to point out simply that the witness had not mentioned Ruto.
Faal put it to the witness that it was not just Kalenjin who launched attacks; Kikuyus, too, attacked other ethnic groups.
“Are you aware of any occasions or instances where the Kikuyus attacked their neighbours?” Faal asked.
“There is no incident where the Kikuyus attacked their neighbours. They only defended their properties,” the witness replied.
Faal then put it to the witness that in an area called Langas, “Kikuyus attacked the Luos and a number of them were beheaded and their heads put on sticks and displayed along the streets”.
“I am not aware,” the witness replied. “I live far from Langas.”
Faal asked the witness whether he knew that Kikuyus attacked Luos and Luhyas in Huruma, forcing them to flee. He also said that in a place called Manyaka, Kikuyus attacked Kalenjins and torched their houses.
The witness said he was not aware of either incident.
But PO508 did say he had heard about attacks by Kikuyus on Luos and other ethnic groups in the towns of Nakuru and Naivasha, in another part of the Rift Valley.
Faal then put it to the witness that a criminal gang called the “Mungiki” was fighting alongside the Kikuyus in the witness’s home region on December 31, 2007.
The witness said he had not seen them.
The lawyer probed further, “Are you trying to diminish the Kikuyu involvement and Kikuyu role in this violence?”
“I am not trying to,” the witness answered.
Faal then questioned the witness about the roadblocks he encountered as he fled the violence. He put it to the witness that there were roadblocks manned by Luos and Luhyas and others run by Kikuyus. The witness agreed.
Faal put it to the witness that Kikuyus were doing the same things as other groups.
“These ones [Kikuyu roadblocks] were different in that they had not put any sign declaring that zone belonged to any political party,” the witness said. “They were not doing exactly the same thing.”
Faal put it to the witness that he was “biased in favour of Kikuyus”.
“I am not,” the witness said.
Sang’s lawyer declined to cross-examine the witness.
This article was produced as part of a media development programme implemented by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications