The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has visited victims of the violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 election.
Fatou Bensouda says she was concerned about ICC witnesses being intimidated ahead of a criminal trial at The Hague in the Netherlands.
In her first official visit to Kenya, Bensouda sat surrounded by some of the 350,000 people displaced by the deadly violence in 2007-2008, still living in a camp of tightly packed tents known as “Pipeline Camp” in the Rift Valley, one of the hardest-hit areas.
The next general election is expected within the next six months, but Bensouda sought to distance herself from Kenya’s restive domestic political scene.
“Ours is a judicial process and what we want to do is to bring justice,” she said. “Justice for those who suffered the post-election violence. It is a separate process. It is not part of the elections. It is not part of the politics.”
Due process overdue
The ICC will try four Kenyans in April accused of fomenting the violence that left more than 1,000 people dead, but
victims also want the lower-ranking perpetrators to face justice.
“The prosecutor is here to gather evidence against those who are seen at the top of the chain of command, who are responsible for organising the violence,” reported Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste.
“But her visit has also reignited a fierce debate about what should happen to the people who carried out those orders. Almost all of those have never seen a court.”
Kenya has so far failed to convict a single person following the violence five years ago.
“I refused to go back to my home because the person I witnessed attacking us, killing my children and burning my house, still lives there,” 62-year old Beth Wanjiru told the prosecutor.
“He should be made to reveal who his commanders were,” she said.
Camp resident Joseph Muhia agreed, saying the search for justice came above party politics.
“The two principals, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, should be made to answer why they let their supporters get out of hand in a fight for their votes,” he said.
“When we were being attacked, we were told it’s because of rigged elections. We did not participate in the rigging, those who did should also face charges.”
Bensouda, from Gambia, sought to play down such hopes on her visit.
“I want to manage your expectations and to let you know that the ICC cannot try everyone of the low level and middle-level perpetrators of the violence,” she said.
“However, we will ensure that justice is done through going after the top level commanders,” she added.
Kenya plunged into violence after the December 27, 2007 general elections, with political riots turning into ethnic killings when the results were disputed.
Rival groups launched reprisal attacks in which homes were torched and people hacked to death in the country’s worst violence since independence in 1963.
Bensouda is on a five-day tour of Kenya, listening to those affected. Unlike her predecessor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who never visited the camps in person, she toured the impoverished settlement holding 966 families outside Nakuru, some 160km west of the capital Nairobi.
“Bensouda, please undertake to find out the factual truth about post-election violence before heading back home,” one banner read, held up as she went round the camp.
“I want to assure you that though you never felt our physical presence, we have been collecting all the information we need from your colleagues,” Bensouda told residents.
“I want to speak also of the special kind of moral courage shown by our witnesses. Caring for witnesses and ensuring their well being is a key priority for me. It takes an exceptionally moral breed of person to stand up and speak. The challenges we face together with witnesses and the sacrifices they make for the sake of truth and justice are exemplary.
“To these Kenyans, who are prepared to come forward, and to protect the truth no matter what, and to all other witnesses who have come forward, and continue to come forward, I want to say, ‘thank you.’ To others who may harbour doubts, I say be courageous and follow the examples of your brothers and sisters who are helping [the] ICC to expose the truth.”
Two of the four to be tried by the ICC – Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, 50, and former agriculture minister William Ruto, 45 – plan to run in presidential elections due in March.
Kenyatta and ex-civil service chief Francis Muthaura, 65, each face five charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution, deportation and other inhumane acts.
Ruto and radio presenter Joshua Arap Sang, 36, who were opposition supporters in 2007, each face three charges of crimes against humanity.