A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) two men in a vehicle he said belonged to Deputy President William Samoei Ruto drove around Eldoret town center on the eve of voting day in December 2007 asking people to be alert to some vehicles suspected of carrying ballot papers to be used in rigging the election.
Witness 658 told the chamber on Thursday that this occurred on the morning of December 26, 2007 after the allegations had been broadcast on Kass FM by Joshua arap Sang. He said he got to the town center after 8 am that day and throughout the morning he saw young men running in the streets, making noise, singing songs as the two men in a Nissan Patrol vehicle also drove around the town center.
The witness said some of the young men burned tires on the streets. He said most of they were all supporters of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party on whose ticket Ruto was seeking reelection as the member of parliament for Eldoret North. At the time Ruto was also a key leader of ODM. He became Kenya’s deputy president last year on a different party ticket.
Ruto, who was present in court on Thursday, is on trial together with Sang at the ICC. They both face three counts of crimes against humanity. The charges stem from their alleged roles in the violence that followed the announcement of the presidential results on December 30, 2007.
Trial Chamber V(a) ruled unanimously in January this year to allow Ruto to be absent from most of the trial hearings. They, however, set conditions that included him being present when a victim testifies in court. It is possible that Witness 658 is what in ICC terms is called a dual status witness. This means he is a prosecution witness and also registered as one of the victims represented by the lawyer for victims. It is possible this is why Ruto was present in court. The presence of Wilfred Nderitu who is the lawyer for victims, at The Hague is further indication that Witness 658 is a dual status witness. It is difficult to be clear about the status of Witness 658 dual because the preliminary discussions on Thursday on his testimony were conducted in private session. However, it is possible during the hearing this will become clear.
The reason Nderitu is usually absent from the trial hearings is because he is based in Nairobi and has to travel to The Hague whenever his presence is required at the hearings. His work is funded by the ICC, which has a limited budget to cover the costs of representing victims. Usually the victims’ interests during the hearings are represented by a staff member of the court’s Office of Public Counsel for Victims. The chamber does allow Nderitu to be present when there is a dual-status witness on the stand.
Also notable about Witness 658 is that he is represented by a lawyer appointed by the court. The lawyer is present only to advise him in case his testimony may incriminate him.
Testifying on what he said he observed four days before the presidential results were announced, Witness 658 said around 11:00AM that day a vehicle of the Mololine Shuttle company drove into Eldoret town, the crowd saw it and started chasing it on suspicion it was one of the vehicles they had been told to watch out for. The witness had said that Sang in his broadcast earlier in the morning had said the vehicles suspected of carrying the ballots papers that were allegedly going to be used in rigging belonged to Mololine and another transport company, Citi Hoppa.
Witness 658 said the driver of the Mololine Nissan vehicle speed towards the Eldoret police station, drove through its gates, and parked towards the back. He said some time afterwards the men in the Nissan Patrol announced that Ruto would be arriving soon at the police station. The witness said Ruto got to the police station accompanied by another member of parliament, Henry Kosgey, who at the time was ODM’s national chairman.
According to the witness, Ruto told the crowd that had gathered at the police station they should be patient and he would go and inspect the Mololine vehicle. Witness 658 said that before Ruto spoke, a close political ally of his, Farouk Kibet, spoke, saying the Kikuyu will not steal votes from them. The witness said Kibet told the crowd that the Kikuyu leaders in the area should inform the then President Mwai Kibaki that they, the Kikuyu, will not steal votes from them.
The witness said the Kikuyu leaders Kibet referred to were the police chief of the Eldoret Police Division and the district commissioner of Uasin Gishu, in whose jurisdiction Eldoret falls in. Kibaki, who was seeking reelection in 2007, is a Kikuyu and campaigned on the ticket of the Party of National Unity (PNU). ODM was the main challenger to Kibaki and PNU.
After some time, Ruto returned to address the crowd and he assured them that the Mololine vehicle had no ballot papers, according to Witness 658. He said the crowd was not convinced, and they moved to another location. Trial lawyer Lucio Garcia then questioned the witness in some detail about the relationship between Ruto and Kibet. The witness said they were close and he said he reached that conclusion because he had seen them together at several public events and they had been members of the same political party for several years.
The witness’s testimony ended there for the day. Earlier he explained that he knew the Nissan Patrol car he talked about belonged to Ruto because he had seen Ruto being driven in it several times. He also said he knew a fair complexioned man who was in the car on December 26, 2007 had been Ruto’s driver for a long time. He said the other occupant of the car was called David Misoi, and he had worked with the state-owned posts and telecommunications company. He said a loud speaker had been mounted on the vehicle, which is how the men inside were addressing residents of Eldoret. The witness said that he thought the vehicle’s license plate is KAG 600 Q, but he was not sure.
The issue of allegations of ballot papers being ferried to Eldoret to be used in rigging has come up during the testimony of two other witnesses. It came up in June during the testimony of Witness 405. More recently, Witness 800, who preceded Witness 658, also talked about the allegations and was cross-examined at length by the lawyers of Ruto and Sang on the issue.
At the beginning of the day’s proceedings, Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji warned the lawyers present against making audible comments about a witness’s testimony. He said he was issuing the warning after noticing that towards the end of the testimony of Witness 800 on Wednesday there was a “din” in the courtroom. He also said he had noticed that from time to time lawyers nod their heads when he is making a ruling. Judge Eboe-Osuji said he did not need their approval when making rulings. He asked them to conduct themselves in a professional manner.
Witness 658 will continue testifying on Friday.