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THE HAGUE: Language barriers hindered smooth proceedings in the trial of Deputy President William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week.

On two days the Trial-Chamber V(a) experienced a hitch in translations of evidence from Kalenjin language to Swahili and to English.

Several times, Kenyan lawyers Katwa Kigen and Joel Bosek had to come to the aid of the Prosecution and language communication marred the proceedings, prompting even Sang to offer a hand.

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"We know this is not your job and we are truly grateful for your assistance to the Chamber," judge Osuji told lawyers Kigen and Bosek.

The breakdown occurred in the transition of Kalenjin phrases used by witness number 409, who began testifying on Thursday.

The witness,  a resident of Nandi Hill, who is testifying in Kiswahili narrated how Ruto and former cabinet minister Henry Kosgey used Kalenjin parables to incite members of the community to violence in 2007.

The three judges have comfortably relied on court interpreters to translate evidence from Kiswahili to English.

But the problem arose when the witness used Kalenjin words which he said were coded parables used by Ruto and Kosgey at different ODM rallies in Nandi Hills in October 2007, to urge the community to evict other tribes from the area.

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The witness, though from a different tribe said he understood Kalenjin very well.

Ruto's lawyer Karim Khan consistently demanded that the witness be made to pronounce the actual kalenjin words spoken by his client before the translation could be recorded.

The first words said to have been used by Kosgey and Ruto were, makimo che ketit ne kiibu chumbek meaning "we don't want the tree that were brought by the white man".  The witness said he understood them to be referring to those people who worked for the white man who were the Luhya, Kikuyu and the Kisii.

They then used words, kimache kesich ketit tugul ne kiibu chumbek meaning the trees should be uprooted,  which the witness understood to mean that the non-Kalenjin should be removed from the area.

The witness told the judges that further, Kosgey used another parable "ometai suswek kolanda agoi got" (you have allowed grass to grow up to your houses).

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He understood him to be referring to the other tribes who had bought land in the area.

Every time the witness switched to Kalenjin, Kigen and Bosek offered to assist in the translation as officers of the court, but did it in a process keenly verified by the prosecution and the judges.

When the witness pronounced the remarks in Kalenjin, lawyer Bosek would repeat them and ask him to confirm if they were the words he had used.

After confirmation the lawyer would then spell each word to the court. Several times he was seen being assisted by Sang in writing the spellings.

Using the spelt words, the prosecutor would try pronouncing again to the witness for a second confirmation. The prosecutor would then ask the witness to state in Kiswahili what the words meant. The Kiswahili meaning would then be translated to English and French for the judges and the rest of the lawyers and court officials.

 On one occasion, the witness disowned the words pronounced by the prosecutor, forcing the Chamber to start the translation process all over again.

Another problem arose because the words used by the witness were in Nandi and the spelling by Bosek was in Kipsigis, both of which are Kalenjin dialects but with slight differences in pronunciation and spellings.

Lawyer Katwa also took issue with the translation of the word nyasi (grass) as weed by the Chamber's interpreters.

Severally Presiding judge Osuji had to intervene in efforts to try and harmonise the translations by attempting to pronounce the Kalenjin words back to the witness for confirmation.

International Criminal Court ICC
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