The attack on Kiambaa Church in which an estimated 35 people were burnt to death was led by a local Orange Democratic Movement leader, the International Criminal Court was told Tuesday.
The first witness to take the stand identified Stephen Kipleting Chamalan, then an ODM politician, as the man commanding the youths who burnt mainly women and children as they cowered in the church.
Witness 536, testifying behind a curtain said she clearly saw Mr Chamalan through a hole in the walls of the church and that he was carrying a jerrican.
Interestingly, Mr Chamalan was among suspects tried and acquitted by the High Court in Nakuru over the atrocity for lack of evidence.
The witness was giving evidence in the trial of Deputy President William Ruto and former radio talk show host Joshua arap Sang at The Hague.
An attack on the Kenya Assemblies of God church, about 10km from Eldoret Town on January 1, 2008, is one of the most horrific atrocities of the post-election violence and was brutally reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide.
Mr Chamalan had contested the 2007 General Election on an ODM ticket, the witness stated. He was elected County Representative for Ngeria Ward, Uasin Gishu County, in the March 4 elections on a URP ticket.
Led in her testimony by prosecutor Anton Steynberg, the witness said the attack had been preceded by threats and arson attacks against the Kikuyu in the area. The attacks and threats were carried out by youths from the Kalenjin community, she said. In one such attack on December 30, 2007, the youths burnt down a house belonging to the witness’ parents.
The witness also received verbal threats from her fellow workers of the Kalenjin community.
Steynberg: Who was issuing the threats and who was threatened?
Witness: It was the Kalenjin youth who I used to work with.
Steynberg: What were the threats?
Witness: They warned me that if we did not vote for ODM, we would face dire consequences.
Steynberg: What do you mean by “we”? Who are you referring to when you say “we”?
Witness: The Kikuyu
In an emotional narrative, the witness recounted how she and some of her family members fled their home and sought refuge at the church on New Year’s Eve following the threats and attacks on the Kikuyu at Kimuri area.
At the church, the witness found hundreds of other families seeking refuge there.
She said there were about 1,800, and were mainly Kikuyus from the surrounding villages.
The witness, who spoke through an interpreter, recounted how Kalenjin youths numbering close to 1,000 attacked the church from different directions that fateful morning.
“They were about 1,000, they were singing as they approached the church,” she said.
Steynberg: What were they singing about?
Witness: They were singing hoi, hoi.
Steynberg: How were they dressed?
Witness: Some wore khaki shorts, others had leaves all over their bodies, others were carrying machetes and others axes and sticks. Many wore khaki shorts and bandanas on their heads.
She said through holes on the wooden windows of the church, she could clearly identify Mr Chamalan, who was dressed in a pair of khaki shorts and a headscarf and was carrying a jerrican whose contents she did not tell the court.
She said Mr Chamalan later threw on the roof of the church the jerrican he was carrying. “He was in a group of youths who were torching the church,” she told the judges.
The court went into closed sessions to protect the identity of the witness and that of her relatives.
During the witness’ entry into the courtroom, her introduction to the court and whenever she had to mention her family members and close relations during her testimony, she was heard in private.
At one point, presiding judge Chile Eboe-Osuji adjourned the session to allow the witness to compose herself after she broke down while giving her testimony.
She said on December 30, 2007, her family’s home was burnt by people she said were Kalenjin youths.
This was the day the presidential election results were announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya that President Mwai Kibaki had won a second term, defeating ODM’s Raila Odinga.
The witness said that during the campaigns, the Kalenjin youths had warned the Kikuyu that they would face dire consequences if ODM did not win the presidential elections.
“On December 30 my father’s home was burnt and on the following day (31st) my home was also burnt,” the witness, who was shielded from the public and the media by curtains, said.
Mr Katwa Kigen, Mr Sang’s lead counsel, objected to the prosecution widening the “temporal scope” of events while questioning the witness.
According to Mr Kigen, the events before January 1, 2008 were rejected by the Pre-Trial chamber and were still matters under ICC’s appellate consideration and could therefore not be brought before the appeal decision is issued.
But the presiding judge overruled him and allowed Mr Steynberg to continue questioning the witness.
“Going back a bit, there were threats from my neighbours even before my parents’ houses were burnt. The threats were coming from Kalenjin youths whom we were working with.
They were threatening me that if ODM does not win the elections then we (Kikuyus in Kimuri near Kiambaa) would face the consequences.”
According to the witness, on January 1 after their houses had been burnt, most of the Kikuyu in Kimuri sought refuge in Kenya Assemblies of God Kiambaa Church.