Elizabeth Evenson is a senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
John Kituyi, a veteran journalist and editor of the Kenyan Mirror Weekly newspaper, was murdered on April 30 as he walked home from work. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that unidentified assailants beat Kituyi severely. He later died in Eldoret Hospital.
Kituyi’s family, fellow journalists, and human rights activists in Eldoret have linked his killing to a recent article about the case against Deputy President William Ruto and the former radio journalist Joshua arap Sang before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Ruto and Sang are facing charges stemming from brutal attacks during Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence, of which Eldoret was the epicenter.
Kituyi’s family—backed by a local parliamentarian—called for a full investigation, and the police have confirmed one is underway.
Kituyi’s killing is not the only one in the Eldoret area in recent months raising questions about a possible link to the ICC’s investigations.
On December 28, Meshack Yebei was abducted from nearby Turbo trading center. After his abduction, Ruto’s ICC defense team said it had planned to call Yebei as a defense witness, while the ICC prosecution claims it has evidence of Yebei’s involvement in a network to bribe or threaten prosecution witnesses in the Ruto and Sang case. In February, officials of Haki Africa, a Mombasa-based human rights organization, discovered Yebei’s body by chance in a Voi mortuary.
Yebei’s family, and Ruto’s lawyer, who says Yebei was threatened with abduction last year by an unidentified ICC prosecution witness and had denied the prosecution’s allegations against him, called for an investigation, and the ICC prosecution and the court’s registry offered to assist. The police opened an investigation but with no public results so far.
At the time of Yebei’s disappearance, journalists in Eldoret who had written about his abduction received threats, forcing some journalists or human rights activists into hiding or to abandon the story altogether.
We do not know what happened to Kituyi or Yebei, but credible investigations are urgently needed. Several witnesses in the ICC Kenya cases changed their minds about testifying, citing security concerns. The deaths of Kituyi and especially Yebei are likely to further raise alarm among victims and witnesses—whether for the prosecution or the defense—about their safety. Getting to the bottom of whether there is any link to the ICC’s investigations in these killings is important to address any such fears.
Unfortunately, there is real cause to be skeptical about whether there will be genuine investigations. There have been allegations of pervasive interference with ICC witnesses and hostility towards the ICC justice process in Kenya, and a dismal record of any meaningful response by the Kenyan authorities.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose similar charges before the ICC were dropped late last year, campaigned with Ruto on a joint ticket in 2013, pledging their personal cooperation with the ICC.
Once they were in office, though, their administration waged a political assault against the ICC, casting it as a “toy of declining imperial powers.” The government has cooperated in facilitating the appearance of some prosecution witnesses in the Ruto and Sang trial. However, according to the ICC’s judges, the government withheld cooperation in the case against Kenyatta, compromising the prosecution’s investigations.
Social media and blogs in Kenya have been used to expose the identities of purported ICC witnesses. This has led to threats against some individuals erroneously identified as witnesses. The authorities know at least some of those behind the blogs but have made no apparent effort to address speculation about witnesses.
One of the last scheduled witnesses in the Ruto and Sang case has refused to take the stand, citing profound security concerns.
The ICC has already issued an arrest warrant for another Eldoret-based man, former journalist Walter Barasa, on charges of attempting to bribe witnesses in the Ruto and Sang case. A Kenyan court issued a warrant for Barasa, but Barasa has appealed.
Kenya’s authorities should be determined to get to the bottom of what happened in both killings. Credible investigations would be a first step to provide answers for the families of these two men. But if there is a link to the ICC prosecutions, investigations may also expose wider efforts to undermine the judicial process. It is late, but not too late, for the Kenyan government to show it will pursue the truth in these cases, wherever it may lead.