ICC Prosecutor Struggles To Indict Kenyan Vice President As Witnesses Are Intimidated To Drop Their Statements

ICC Prosecutor Struggles To Indict Kenyan Vice President As Witnesses Are Intimidated To Drop Their Statements

This is part of a feature series on how nations in Africa address corruption, that will publish bimonthly until the end of the May.

Accused of violating human rights by coordinating attacks on specific ethnic groups following the 2007 Kenyan elections, Vice President William Ruto and radio broadcaster Joshua Sang have been on trial since December 2013 at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The loss of many witnesses has limited the evidence available to the prosecutor. Earlier this month, the ICC judges ruled out the statements of five key witnesses, boosting Ruto and Sang’s cases.

According to the court’s evidence, Ruto organized the buying of guns and weapons for his supporters, targeted specific victims, and selected the locations of the attacks. He may have even paid those that successfully killed the supporters of his opponent during the elections. Evidence against Sang reveals that he organized the violence through his radio broadcasts. Both men have consistently denied the accusations, but the prosecutor has been bent on finding enough evidence to incriminate them.

Initially, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and former head of civil service, Francis Muthaura, were also on trial with Ruto and Sang, for allegedly contributing to the 2007 violence. However, the case against Muthaura was dismissed after a significant witness recanted part of his evidence in March 2013. Kenyatta’s charges were also dropped in December 2014, due to the lack of evidence after two witnesses withdrew their testimonies. The prosecutor claimed that the witnesses had been intimidated, and emphasized that she will start a new case when she is able to compile enough evidence.

These witness losses are not exclusive to the Kenyatta and Muthaura trials. Several witnesses have recanted their statements, been abducted, or killed during Ruto and Sang’s trial. Meshack Yebei, one of the defendant’s witnesses, admitted that he had organized the bribery of several witnesses that were set to testify after Ruto had offered him $50,000. However, after Yebei never received the money and threatened to betray Ruto, he was abducted and found dead in 2014. Following his death, John Kituyi, another potential witness that was writing an exposé on Ruto and Sang’s trial, was found beaten by assailants, and died at a local hospital.

Early this month, the ICC judges prohibited the lawyers in the trial from using withdrawn witness statements. The ruling has been a major setback for the prosecutor who has now lost five critical witnesses. She argued  that the witnesses had only withdrawn their statements because they were bribed and threatened, but the judges have refused to go back on their decision. For Ruto and Sang, it is celebration as they say it is “one step closer to our freedom.”

The deaths of several witnesses and reporters haves spread fear through the Kenyan community. Many Kenyan reporters are writing anonymously, and most of them have stopped writing on the Vice President’s trial. For the International Criminal Court, the prosecutor’s disadvantage is a major problem, because a win for Ruto would signify that the Court is unable to successfully prosecute corrupt, influential officials.