ICC prosecutors fear identity of first witness now revealed

Concerns that the cover of the first witness to take the stand at the ICC trial of Deputy President William Ruto had been blown Wednesday forced the court to go into an emergency private session to discuss the security of witnesses.

The prosecution pressed judges to allow more stringent witness protection measures citing the difficulty with the Kenyan cases before the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

The unscheduled closed-door session that took up the morning hours pushed planned submissions on Kenya’s relationship with the ICC to the afternoon, meaning Witness 536 — who first took the stand on Tuesday — did not continue with her testimony yesterday.

The court has taken measures to conceal the identity of the witness by, among other measures, concealing her face and distorting her voice, but reports indicated that both the prosecution and the witness were concerned about attempts to reveal her identity.

When the court resumed in the afternoon, Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji warned those participating in proceedings and the public that the court would prosecute anyone who revealed the identity of witnesses.

“Members of the press, bloggers, social media members or participants and their web hosts are particularly called upon to desist from anything that would reveal or attempt to reveal the identity of protected witnesses. Such conduct will be investigated and the culprits will be prosecuted,” warned Judge Eboe-Osuji.

Kenya’s determination to withdraw from the ICC haunted Deputy President Ruto and his co-accused, journalist Joshua Sang, as the prosecution charged that it had evidence of hostility towards the court.

Trial lawyer Anton Steynberg pressed for more protective measures, including withholding of the identities of witnesses before they are called up to testify.

Hostile environment

Steynberg cited “ongoing attempts to interfere and bribe witnesses”, exposure of their identities and the resolutions by the Kenyan Parliament to end the country’s membership of the ICC as pointers to the hostility.

“These are matters that affect all witnesses residing in Kenya,” said Steynberg. “We need individual assessment of each witness.”

Ruto’s lawyer, Mr Karim Khan, however, argued that Kenya should not be viewed as a pariah State.

“Kenya has not been dragged to the ICC kicking and screaming,” Khan said. “The Deputy President is right behind me, not because of coercion, but because he believes in the rule of law.”

The victims’ lawyer, Mr Wilfred Nderitu, said the action by the Kenyan Parliament had sent the message to victims and witnesses that “you are on your own.”

The resolutions by the National Assembly and Senate had created a “hostile environment” for those co-operating with the court, he argued.

With the prosecution seeking to use the action by parliament against the accused, Ruto himself addressed judges to clear the air on the status of Kenya.

“I came here voluntarily because I believe in the rule of law, I believe in fairness,” Ruto said. Sang’s lawyer, Mr Katwa Kigen, argued that his client had no control over the actions by the National Assembly and the Senate and therefore they should not be used against him.

Steynberg said: “What we ask are limited proportional protective measures for witnesses. They would still testify in open court.”

The prosecution counsel urged the judges to review an earlier ruling rejecting omission of some of the witnesses in the list supplied to defence teams.  “In the present circumstances, the prosecution submits that the chamber has sufficient grounds to reconsider its earlier decision not to grant an advance omission for the witnesses requested in the first 10 witnesses as they then stood,” he said.

“The Chamber should rule in favour of protecting the identities of the witnesses for whom the application is pending, unless there is reason not to,” Steynberg added.

Judge Eboe-Osuji said the Trial Chamber V would rule on the matter in due course.-standardmedia.co.ke

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