Threat to Kenya's ICC witnesses: Traitors will be dealt with 'ruthlessly'

Top International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has named six Kenyan leaders for crimes against humanity this week, but witnesses have been threatened or bribed not to cooperate.

By , Staff Writer

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    Kenya's suspended higher education minister William Ruto reacts during a news conference in the capital Nairobi on Dec. 15. The International Criminal Court prosecutor named three Kenyan cabinet ministers, including Ruto, and a former police chief on Wednesday among six suspects behind the east African country's post-election violence in 2008.
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For the supporters of Kenya's former Agriculture Minister William Ruto, there are two kinds of enemies.

There are enemies who are born that way, as ethnic Kikuyus or Luos who simply must be expelled from the Rift Valley as “foreigners.” And there are the enemies from within, ethnic Kalenjins who are traitors to their own people.

It is the internal traitors – whom a group calling itself the "Friends of Hon. William Ruto" chillingly call “moderate Tutsis [victims of the Rwandan genocide]" – whom they see as the greater enemy, to be dealt with “ruthlessly.”

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“These witnesses should be presented with limited options of being offered handsome cash incentives to drop their cases or more punitive measures, including assassination, should be taken against those who do not cooperate,” read the minutes from a meeting of the Friends of Ruto, held on Nov. 10, 2009. “The Prime Minister [Raila Odinga] and other enemies should not be given the opportunity to hurt our leaders through the predetermined investigations and eventual trials by the [International Criminal Court].”

One of these supposed “traitors” is an elder of the community who prefers to go unnamed for this story due to the grave risks of speaking out. During the 2007 election campaign, this community elder was targeted by Ruto’s supporters for failing to give support to Ruto. He now says Ruto’s supporters have singled him out as an enemy.

“My people’s culture does not believe in violence for the sake of it,” says the elder, himself a well-educated person who adheres to Kalenjin traditions at home, including the honoring of ancestors. “But in [the Dec. 27, 2007 election], we were just killing people. I will not allow my community to be used to go killing people, looting properties. If I allow this to continue, the country will perish.”

By confronting Ruto publicly during the campaign and afterward, the elder has earned the ire of Ruto’s supporters. Now, he plans to testify to the ICC investigation, at great personal risk.

“They believe that if they have the money, they’ll be able to get young men and mobilize them, but the people are not that desperate all the time,” he says. “They only need to be sensitized to the dangers of being used to carry out violence.

“They preach violence against the Kikuyus, against the Luos, and against Kalenjins like me who are enemies of Ruto,” says the elder. But the way to prevent another outbreak of violence is to start, right now, he says, to educate young people that they are the ones who suffer when violence breaks out. “The people who fight for Ruto, they are still suffering, while Ruto and his friends are in Nairobi getting rich. So to start reducing the effects of violence is to bring education to the people about what they gained. The answer is nothing.”

An unforgiveable breach?

“Witnesses” like the elder face not only physical danger, but also the possibility of being ostracized by their community. In a highly tribalized society such as the Kalenjin community of the Rift Valley – as well as among other ethnic groups across Kenya, such as the Luos, Kikuyus, Luhyas, and Kambas, there is a propensity for putting the needs of the community ahead of the ambitions of the individual, and speaking against a member of one’s own community is often seen as an unforgivable breach.

Yet a small but courageous number of Kalenjins from Eldoret say they feel no choice but to speak up in order to prevent the type of violence they saw supporters of Ruto carry out against enemies nearly three years ago.

One young witness of the violence told the Monitor that he attended numerous 2007 campaign rallies in which Ruto was present, and at which Ruto’s supporters incited young Kalenjins to carry out violence if necessary to secure a victory for Ruto.

The young witness spoke at a national commission of inquiry held in Nairobi, chaired by the Kenyan Appeals Court Justice Phillip Waki. The Waki Commission handed over its report to the Kenyan government in October 2008, and its report forms at least part of the evidentiary trail toward key Kenyan politicians such as Ruto.

“Ruto was there,” says the witness, who spoke to the Monitor on condition of anonymity and has also gone into a foreign witness-protection program before testifying at the ICC. “What I saw was incitement. The leaders were giving speeches, saying that the Kikuyus have to leave. And in December, Ruto said that the youth should prepare for violence, that the women should start crying in public to encourage the men to do violence.”

Several of the witnesses interviewed by the Monitor said they had been followed by strangers and had received numerous death threats.

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