Deputy President William Ruto and radio presenter Joshua Sang for the first time came face to face with one of their accusers, before the International Criminal Court (ICC), who gave a chilling account on the Kiambaa church arson attack. The witness, only identified as “Prosecution Witness 536”, to conceal her identity, alleged that an unsuccessful Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) candidate, in the 2007 elections, one Stephen Kipleting Chemalan played a key role in the horror church attack that left up to 35 people dead.
So moving was her testimony that at one time, the judges had to adjourn the proceedings to give the sobbing witness time to “compose herself.” “The church was set alight and we were all trying to find a way to escape. I was carrying my small child with me,” the witness said as she recounted the horrifying ordeal in which at least 35 people were burnt to death. Procedure that had not been seen on the cases was followed yesterday to protect the witness identity, slowing down the process.
The court had to make short adjournments in the morning and in the afternoon to allow the witness to be brought into Chamber V without being seen by media teams in the gallery or by Kenyans watching the live streaming on television. The witness spoke from be- hind a blurred screen while her voice was disguised.
However, judges, lawyers, court staff and the accused who were in the Chamber could see and hear her undisguised. She spoke in Kiswahili while an interpreter delivered her questions and answers to the court. All those who may know her identity, including the media and lawyers, are not allowed to reveal it, under ICC procedure for witness protection.
Trial Chamber V bench, led by Nigerian Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji heard that the ODM leader, Chemalan, was among those who led rowdy youths in raiding the Kenya Assemblies of God (KAG) church at Kiambaa, where a group of residents, mostly from the Kikuyu community, had sought refuge owing to violence that had erupted. The witness named other suspected gang leaders in the attack on the church as Emmanuel Bull, Kimepo and an unknown male identified only as ‘Brown,’ on account of his light skin colour.
This was revealed as the Senior Trial Lawyer Anton Steynberg led the first witness in giving testimony. Before the trial, Ruto’s lawyer Karim Khan demanded the court informs the witness- es of possible implications, which include imprisonment, if found to have lied. “It is one thing to be mistaken or have a hazy recollection about events, it is another, however, to deliberately lie. I recommend that the prosecution prepares a document that the witness should sign to show they are aware that perjury is a crime,” said Khan.
Osuji, however, read out some of the provisions quoting Rule 66(3) on the principles of operation. “I see no need for the witness to sign anything, they are well aware of the consequences of perjury. The court does not believe the witnesses are here to give false testimony, it is simply a requirement that we inform you of this,” said Osuji.
The witness told the court she saw Chemalan from the cracks of a wooden window, as he held a blue jerrycan, spotting a ‘bandana’ on his head in an attempt to disguise himself. “It was possible to open the wooden church windows, but I could not because there were arrows and spears being thrown our way.
From window cracks, I identified one of the attackers, Chemalan, who was dressed in khaki shorts and had a bandana on his head,” the witness narrated. Witness 536 also told the court she had been threatened by some Kalenjin youths she was working with at that time, adding that the members of the Kikuyu community had been warned prior to the elections that they would be in trouble if they did not vote for ODM.
Upon the announcement of the disputed presidential results, she said, there was heightened tension and she fled to the KAG church to seek refuge together with other members of the Kikuyu community. “I left my house at 2am and went to Kiambaa church to seek refuge, together with my children. I was fleeing be- cause there was tension in the area following the burning of houses,” she narrated. “There were many of us at that location, children and women.
I was with my family members since my parents’ house had been burned down. Kiambaa had about 500 households and about 1,800 of us had sought refuge there.” The witness recounted that on that fateful morning, they heard people singing and they were to later see approximately 3,000 youths approaching the church from different directions. The youths were clad in khaki shorts, some had ‘bandanas’ and they were carrying machetes.
She said some had painted themselves with white clay, as if to disguise themselves, while those among them who looked like their leaders had tied fabric around their heads. The witness said the attackers were Kalenjin, stating that the way they spoke Kiswahili made it easy for her to identify their language. She said they later set ablaze the building after Chemalan poured the contents of the jerrycan on its roof and people inside started scampering for safety.
Meanwhile, Judge Osuji has asked the defence teams of Ruto and Sang, the prosecution and the victims’ legal representative, Wilfred Nderitu, to make submissions today morning informing the court if two motions tabled in the Kenyan parliament, seeking withdrawal from the Rome Statute, have any effect on the ongoing ICC cases.
The judge informed the court that they had been notified by the Prosecution the first witness was late because of the motion passed by the Kenyan Parliament two weeks ago. “We will need to have the factual matter established on record, parties should be prepared to address the questions; Is it a fact that the Parliament of Kenya debated and adopted resolutions that may have any relevance to this case? If so, what, if so when, if so why?” he directed.
According to Eboe-Osuji, the parties should also indicate if the motion has any effect on witness protection as indicated by the Prosecution. In the meantime, Uasin Gishu Ward Representative Chemalan, named by the prosecution’s first witness as among those who led the at- tack on the Kiambaa church, yesterday declined to comment on the matter. - By People Team