An expert witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday, April 9, that 506 buildings were burnt in Eldoret in January 2008 around the time there was violence following the presidential poll a month earlier.
Lars Bromley told the court on Wednesday there were another 190 structures that were possibly burnt. Bromley was testifying in the trial of Deputy President William Samoei Ruto and former radio journalist Joshua arap Sang who are each facing three counts of crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in the bloodshed that followed the December 2007 elections.
Bromley’s testimony is the first in the trial in which a witness has been able to quantify the buildings burnt during that period. Previous witness had been able only to testify to the homes burnt down in a particular location but not in a broad area.
The prosecution asked Bromley to testify because he is a specialist in analysing satellite images and related data. Bromley is Principal Analyst with a program of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. It is called UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Program, or UNOSAT.
Bromley said his program monitors natural disasters and human security and human rights events. He said the program has recently done work in the Central Africa Republic, Congo, South Sudan and Mali. He said they also analysed data on last year’s typhoon in The Philippines. Bromley said UNOSAT produced 169 public reports in 2013 and another 14 or so internal reports for the United Nations.
He told the court he was able to tell whether a building had been burnt by comparing satellite images taken some years ago with those taken in January 2008. Bromley said in the case of Eldoret he compared an image of the town taken on March 14, 2006 and another taken on January 1, 2008.
Bromley explained that in the earlier image he was able to see shadows of the buildings, which to him indicated that the buildings stood undamaged. In the January 2008 image he said he saw the grey-white of ash, blackened areas around some buildings indicating that vegetation had been burnt as well. Bromley said that he could tell the burning of the buildings was deliberate because the burn pattern was not even and uninterrupted as would be the case in a natural fire. He also said another indication the burning was deliberate was that not all buildings in a row were burnt.
The expert witness also elaborated that ash was visible in the satellite images showed the burning was recent, perhaps within a week of the image being taken. Bromley said ash was usually blown away by the wind within a matter of days.
He told the court he used an instrument to map where fires had been detected during the period in question. The tool he used he said is called MODIS, or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, which is on satellites managed by the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He explained the satellites that carry MODIS go round the earth at least twice a day and MODIS can detect to the pixel any large fires. He said it was more accurate in terms of determining when a fire started.
Bromley said he was given coordinates by the prosecutor and based on those coordinates he came up with a report mapping where fires had occurred and was able to analyse how many buildings had been burnt or possibly burnt. He explained the possibly burnt category meant the satellite image was not clear enough for him to determine with certainty that a building was burnt and not damaged because of something else. He said one factor that could lead to such uncertainty was cloud cover when the image was taken.
Bromley told the court he analysed data that covered Eldoret, Kimumu, Langas, Yamumbi and Kiambaa. He said his analysis showed that there was a spike of fires in January 2008 in these areas, which are part of Uasin Gishu district. Uasin Gishu district is one of the areas covered in the document containing the charges against Ruto and Sang. Senior Trial Lawyer Anton Steynberg led Bromley in his evidence.
Ruto’s lawyer, Essa Faal began cross-examining Bromley in the afternoon. Just before the court rose for the day, Faal had asked Bromley a series of questions about whether the images he analysed of Eldoret definitely showed that the buildings had been deliberately burnt or through what he referred to as agriculture burning. Bromley replied that it could have been either.
Bromley will continue testifying on Thursday.