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80 ICC witnesses in safe houses

By - | Updated Thu, January 24th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3


The 80 witnesses the International Criminal Court will line up against Jubilee presidential candidate, his running mate and two other Kenyans when trials start in April are now all out of the country.

Together with the their families, the witnesses to testify against Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr William Ruto, Mr Francis Muthaura and Mr Joshua Arap Sang, in the two sets of cases have also been put under lifetime protection and some could even have been given new identities.

This is to ensure they are safe from retribution from those aggrieved by their testimonies as to what, in their view, the suspects contributed to Kenya’s bloody postelection violence fi ve years ago.

The more than 80 witnesses, who include new ones flown out of the country recently along with their families, will not be returning to Kenya after completion of the cases.

ICC has also cancelled an earlier plan to relocate the witnesses to African countries after the cases, highly confidential sources revealed.

The witnesses and civil society groups had opposed the relocation plan, arguing it would expose them because the African Union (AU) and its member states had already opposed the court’s action.

Trials for Uhuru, who is vying for the presidency on a Jubilee ticket and Ruto, as well as Muthaura who was then Head of the Civil Service, as well as Sang, who is Kass FM’s head of operations, start on April 11.

Wednesday, a source linked to the witnesses and the ICC protection desk said the witnesses would now enjoy a raft of measures on their safety under a plan to be supported by the court and several European States where the witnesses have been living for the past three years.

 “The worries earlier on expressed by the witnesses about their safety and welfare have now been addressed and the witnesses are now set to focus on the trials”, said the source.

Some of the witnesses also confirmed they were now comfortable after ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda personally intervened to secure her evidence by assuring them about the safety measures.

“We will be given dual citizenship so that those who may wish to visit home can do so and return to their protection areas at any time they may wish,” said one of them speaking from a country whose identity we can’t reveal for security reasons. 

The number of those to enjoy the protection stands at over 200 because each of the witnesses had been allowed to move with their family members, especially spouses and children. The family members will also enjoy other benefits, including education.

To be moved

Some of the close relatives to the witnesses who are still in the country will also be flown out if they wish to be placed under protection.

From Next week, the witnesses are expected to be moved to The Hague to await the opening of the trials.

One of the Civil Society groups that has been pushing for better protection for the witnesses is the Center for Human Rights and Democracy (CHRD) whose executive director, Mr Ken Wafula, had written to the ICC over the matter.

He argued that neglecting the safety of the witnesses would equally undermine evidence in the upcoming cases. “They should be protected at all costs because they have put their own lives and that of their families on the line so that they stand for what they know about the poll violence”, said Wafula.

Bensouda had applied to ICC Judges to be allowed to meet the witnesses ahead of the hearings.?

The sources said the witnesses had been officially notified that they would be required to give their evidence in the cases.

It has also emerged that ICC has finalised investigations against some individuals who attempted to tamper with the witnesses through threats and hacking of emails. Investigators are however still weighing how to take up the issue with the judges.

The investigators who operate from two neighbouring countries are also pushing to secure further evidence to strengthen cases against the Kenyans, particularly murder.

Already they have in the last few weeks reportedly obtained crucial evidence on the Kiambaa Church fire where more than 35 people were killed in a chilling case of murderous arson.

The latest evidence has linked a former powerful politician in the Rift Valley region to the violence and he will be implicated during the hearings. He had earlier been named in Justice Phillip Waki Commission on the violence.

Uhuru has said there will be no power vacuum when he attends trials at The Hague should he be elected president either in the March 4 contest or in the run-up in April if there will be no clear winner in the first round.

The Constitution requires that the winner must get over 50 per cent of the votes cast as well as at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in at least half of the 47 Counties in the first round. If no one attains these margins, then the top two go

Speaking to Al Jazeera television on Wednesday night, Uhuru said Kenya had not turned into a Banana Republic and has institutions that would ensure government was running well were if he were President and Ruto his deputy, and both are at The Hague where they would be required to be physically present in court.

“Even as we face these charges we will still continue to appear. There is absolutely no power vacuum because one thing that people always tend to forget is that Kenya is not a Banana Republic. Kenya is a country that has really firm and clear institutions in place…so consequently the system and the State will continue to run regardless of the court, the two are not interlinked,” stated Uhuru.