18 September 2013

Kenya: Witness 536 Remembers Church Fire

Photo: ICC
Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto at the International Criminal Court.

The first Kenyan witness at the ICC yesterday testified how she saw a political activist kill a man escaping from the burning Kiambaa church where 35 people died.

The witness, only identified as witness PO536, said that the attackers were led by Uasin Gishu county assembly member and URP member Stephen Leting.

Leting was among three other people who were charged with the attack on the church in 2009 who were acquitted for lack of evidence.

PO536 said she saw another activist popularly known as 'Mr Brown' kill a man outside the burning church. 'Brown' has never been charged with any offence related to the post election violence.

The witness started by recalling how the Kalenjin had warned the Kikuyu that there would be consequences for not voting for ODM.

"There were threats before the elections by some of the Kalenjin youth whom we were working with and they told us that if we don't vote for ODM, we will face the consequences," the witness said.

The proceedings had to frequently break into private sessions to allow the court to hide the identity of the witness who spoke in Swahili. Her face and voice were digitised and distorted. And she used specially assigned numbers to identity other witnesses and victims in order to protect their identity.

She said she left her home at 2am on January 1, 2008 to seek refuge at the Kiambaa Kenya Assemblies of God Church.

"I went to the church to seek refuge for me and my children. I was fleeing because of the tension that has arisen from the burning of the house by the youths," the witness said.

At the church, the children and the elderly stayed inside while the rest stayed outside. Later in the morning, a group of youth emerged from the nearby road chanting "hoi, hoi, hoi".

"This group of our enemies was coming from behind and another group emerged from the left and some of us ran inside the church," she said.

She said the church was made of timber slats and roofed with iron sheets. She peered through the cracks of the wall and saw an estimated "3,000" youths surrounding the church.

"Some were dressed in khaki shorts and had headbands. The youth had painted themselves with white clay. Some of the youth carried traditional weapons such as machetes and sticks," the witness said.

The witness told the court that she was able to identify Leting through the wall. She said Leting wore a pair of khaki shorts and had a bandana on his head.

"It appeared that the bandana was to disguise himself since we had not seen him with it before. He was also carrying a blue jerrycan as the the youth torched the church," the witness said.

She said the attackers doused the mattresses placed against the church walls with petrol before setting them alight. Leting then threw the empty jerrican on the roof of the church.

"Everyone inside tried to get some way out there. It was very difficult," the witness said.

At the church door Kalenjin youths blocked those who attempted to run out of the burning church. She said the youths were armed with clubs, big sticks, arrows and axes.

She managed to escape but almost went mad when she heard fleeing children being thrown back to die in the blaze.

As she ran, she saw an old man hacked to death with an axe. She saw another woman whom she knew being raped.

"Its difficult to tell but I will tell because that's a woman I knew. She was struck by an axe. She was raped.... I lost it then," she told the court.

The witness claimed she saw other people being axed and speared outside the church. She said she saw Brown strike a man she knew who was then speared and slashed.

The witness presented a sketch of where the man was hiding before he was fished out by Brown and his accomplices. She said many people who took refuge in the church had used bicycles to ferry their families there. Photos of the burnt bicycles piled on one side of the church were also presented.

"I removed all my clothes and was left entirely naked. I did this to scare off the youths. In Kalenjin culture it's a curse when a woman strips naked in front of young men. I wanted to save my brother's life," she told the court.

The witness said Brown then threw the seriously injured man to her telling her to "take that trash." He had an arrow lodged in his head and he had been nearly decapitated.

"He took a few steps and then fell to the ground," she said. She then dragged the man through forest trails to a nearby tarmac road.

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