Sureta Chana, 58, has been a lawyer for 38 years practicing in Kenya, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and at present is the lawyer for victims in the first Kenya case at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Born in Kenya, she is a graduate of the University of Nairobi and George Washington University, from where in 1976 she earned a master’s of comparative law. She spoke with Tom Maliti from London about the first Kenya case at the ICC – The Prosecutor vs. William Samoei Ruto et al. – where she represents victims. In Part 1 of the interview she discusses handling the expectations of the Kenyan victims participating in the proceedings.
What have been the experience and the expectations of the victims during the hearings from where you sit?
Well, I went to Kenya and I met at least 100 but I couldn’t meet everyone because I was appointed rather late. That’s another issue all together. And a lot of the victims, of course, their expectations are that they will be compensated or that they will be put back into the position that they were before the violence happened. That is certainly one of the big issues. But of course when you delve further into it and then it seems very obvious, but when you talk about, they’ll say of course they’re looking for justice and accountability. And very importantly, apologies. The recognition that the violence occurred. That they have been deeply, deeply wounded in all sorts of manner. Not only to their property but to their moral well-being. And they want an apology. That’s something which was interesting that I heard from a lot of them. So yes, it’s a whole gambit of things that they expect. They expect that for the first time, powerful people and rich people can indeed face a court trial because they did not think really that was possible. Such is the atmosphere of impunity levels, impunity in Kenya they didn’t think that powerful and rich people can ever be brought to a court. So that was I think a big surprise for them as well because it doesn’t happen in Kenyan courts. If you are rich and powerful you are never brought before a court. In fact, if you are ever brought to court, it’s an indication that you’ve lost power.
So clearly for them, the ICC case is a very big deal.
It’s a very big deal. It’s a hope again. That these things will never happen again. I think that is another very important thing because there has been a pattern of violence around elections in Kenya, and they really hope that this will not happen again. So there’re quite a lot of expectations.
Are they sort of like huge expectations or are they manageable expectations?
Well, that’s one of the jobs I had, was to manage their expectations because, obviously, one can’t promise them the earth and then deliver very little. And this is because there is no precedent for reparations yet. We have not had a trial go to the end of reparations (at the ICC). So it is very much a field which is open. So nobody really knows. So I can’t with any honesty really promise them too much. I basically say to them expect the worst and hope for the best as to how much you will be compensated. Obviously, it is going to be a very difficult exercise and how it will pan out after the convictions then the reparations process starts.
It’s a new system in international justice. So that’s why I think it will be very important to manage their expectations because I think some of the other lawyers who first took down their details and sent the forms to the court raised expectations a lot. And I think that was one of my jobs, was to really be honest with the victims. It is very important to be honest. Not to dash their hopes when it comes to reparations but certainly to tell them that there are difficulties and there may be many different kinds of reparations. Like reparations for a community or whatever. Processes that are cold comfort to people who have lost their livelihoods, their homes, their land. They would like to have that back and I think they have every right to expect it. So that is one of the things as the victims’ representative is to make sure that one should do the best one can in that regard and that is something I’m very interested in. So I already have sort of set the base because for everything you have to prove things. I’ve already said to them that they should try to preserve the evidence they have of their losses now before it is too late and it gets lost in time.