Stephen Chemalang’, Emmanuel Bull, Kimepo and an unknown male identified as ‘Brown,’ on account of his light skin colour, were adversely mentioned when the ICC prosecution’s first witness took to the stand on Tuesday.
The witness known only as P0536 to protect her identity was overcome with emotion as she recounted the roles the four individuals played in the torching and subsequent murder of those who had sought refuge at the Kenya Assemblies of God church in Kiambaa on January 1, 2008.
She accused Chemalang’ of leading about 3,000 youths covered in white chalk to the church compound with machetes, bows and arrows in tow.
“Chemelang’ himself was wearing khaki trousers and a bandana on his head, I saw him through a crack in the church window with a blue jerrycan in his hand. He poured the contents of the jerrycan, petrol, onto one of our mattresses and threw it onto the roof of the church in which we were hiding,” she recounted.
The witness said she was one of 2,000, mainly mothers and children, who had sought safety in the confines of the modest church constructed using wood, mud and corrugated iron sheets.
“We were getting ready to prepare our morning tea when we heard chanting and saw two groups of youth coming from behind us and the left. They were singing ‘hae ho,’ and the men told us to get the children and get into the church,” she said.
These men, she said, used the victims’ bicycles to barricade the main door of the church while they stood outside the side door to ensure nobody made a run for it and survived.
One woman tried to escape, the witness testified, and paid the price for it. “It’s very hard for me to relay this incident to you because she was a friend of mine. Her name was Margaret Wanjiru and when she ran out of the church to beg Brown for help they raped her,” the witness relayed as she broke down.
The witness went on to narrate how she sought help from an elder for her friend but only succeeded in getting him felled by an axe, “his name was Baba Sharogo,” she revealed.
But it took an attack on her brother for her to come out of hiding, “he had been hiding in the church compound but before he could save himself they shot him with an arrow which lodged itself at the nape of his neck,” the witness recalled in tears.
She went on to describe how she stripped naked in a bid to save her brother’s life, “in Kalenjin culture a naked woman is a curse and seeing this, Brown shoved my brother at me and told me to take my trash with me.”
According to the witness, she got help down the road when she pleaded in Kalenjin with a Kalenjin truck-owner for her brother’s life.
The truck-driver eventually dropped her brother off at the Moi Referral Hospital in Eldoret saving his life.
The witness’ testimony was frequently disrupted, not just when Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji allowed the witness a break to compose herself, but when the judge and Deputy President William Ruto’s defence counsel, Karim Khan, engaged in a debate on whether or not the witness should be notified, on the stand, that she would risk prosecution should she be found to have given false testimony.
“There are certain warnings that may be given to the witness and that looms large on their mind when they testify,” Eboe-Osuji argued cautious not to intimidate the witness but he did eventually communicate Khan’s wishes to the witness.
It was then agreed that future witness preparation sessions would be video taped to ensure witnesses are notified of this provision and are therefore careful not to give an untrue version of events.
In Kalenjin culture a naked woman is a curse and seeing this, Brown shoved my brother at me and told me to take my trash with me.
“Do not try to guess at an answer you do not know. It’s always important to make sure you understand the question before you answer it,” Eboe-Osuji had directed the witness at the start of the trial.
Translation also proved to be a sticking point for the victims’ legal counsel, Wilfred Nderitu, and journalist Joshua arap Sang’s lawyer Katwa Kigen who both understand Kiswahili.
They pointed out instances where the English translation did not accurately communicate what the witness was trying to say.
“There are instances when the witness used the word ‘adui’ which the English word is ‘enemy’ but the translator used the word ‘group’, there are instances where the witness said the people wore khaki shorts and the translation that was given is that it was ‘leaves,’” Kigen illustrated.
The court also went into a closed sessions at least three times with the final being for the witness to indicate, on a map she had drawn, where each of the events she had related transpired.
The first witness continues to give her testimony on Wednesday in order to allow the prosecution to complete their interrogation and the defence, victims’ counsel and chamber a chance to cross-examine her.
The chamber had allowed the prosecution an approximate four hours to question the witness, both defence teams an equal amount of time to carry out their cross-examination and half this allocation to the judges and Nderitu totalling 16 hours.