Why I quit as witness after a year in Uganda

An ICC witness has relived his experience of spending 360 days in a safe house and claims he left the witness programme on learning that the cases were being manipulated by various non-governmental organisations.

The witness, who Sunday Nation cannot name because of his security fears, was in the ICC witness protection scheme for one year in Uganda before opting to quit and return to Kenya on August 16.

The man, who was among witnesses lined up by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda against Deputy President William Ruto in the case that is expected to start on Tuesday, told Sunday Nationthat during the 12 months he was in a safe house, he learnt that a group of NGOs were trying to “influence the two Kenyan cases” against Mr Ruto and President Kenyatta for political reasons.

“This is when I realised that it was not about justice for victims but politics. This was not why I became an ICC witness,” says the man. Since his arrival in Kenya seven days ago, the man sleeps in different places due to concerns of his security in his status as a former witness.

SABOTAGE THE CASE

The day Sunday Nation interviewed him, he had spent a night in Eldoret town and told us that he was heading to Voi town, where he was scheduled to spend another night before relocating the following day.

“I am now seeking to be put under the Kenyan witness protection unit. Since I arrived, I have been forced to move from place to place because of my security. I know there are people in Kenya who do not like what I did and would go to great lengths to harm me and my family,” says the witness.

The witness says he joined the prosecution team because he believed the victims of 2007-8 post-election violence would get justice. He claims he no longer feels that it is the case. He also claims that he was not bribed to renounce his witness status in an attempt to sabotage the case.

He talks about dull days in the ICC safe house where, together with his family, he was holed up during the period as he waited to be moved to the second country. There were days, he says, when the only visitors were ICC witness protection officers who counsel witnesses and their families every three months or sometimes monthly.

Although his children were admitted to international schools in Uganda, the witness said, they asked him questions about when they would return home to their friends and grandparents.

The witness praised his wife for remaining positive during the period which he says was “very difficult”. Like other ICC witness households, the man says ICC would give them a stipend of Sh100,000 monthly for upkeep. “It is a difficult and lonely life. You are not certain what tomorrow will bring and hope that it will bring with it sunny times for you and your family,” says the witness.

Although he knew there were close to 15 ICC witnesses in different safe houses spread in East Africa, he never met or spoke to any of them during the period. He says the ICC field officers he encountered in Uganda should be retrained on putting security of witnesses ahead of anything else.

“Being an ICC witness is not a simple task. You are volunteering your life and that of your children. ICC needs to be extra careful on how they handle witnesses. Officers in witness protection I met in Uganda are not well trained on ensuring that the witness is secure. I am certain most witnesses go through a lot but they are in no-man’s land, they cannot turn back,” says the witness.

In a statement, the office of Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda denied it had coached witnesses: “The courage and integrity of witnesses are essential to the court’s determination of the truth. The proper forum for determining the truth remains in the courtroom and not in the media. The Office of the Prosecutor will, therefore, not be drawn into public speculation on the status of witnesses.

“In the meantime our work continues. Our pursuit of justice for the victims of post-election violence is in motion, and justice must be allowed to take its course,” Bensouda said.

The witness claimed that he was vetted and selected by ICC because he had crucial evidence on the post-election violence. He claimed that he was first vetted by human rights organisations before being interviewed by ICC’s situation analysts in Nairobi.

During the interview, he asked us not to name the human rights organisations and the ICC local contacts that vetted him and close to 15 other ICC witnesses.

He says that after the vetting they were taken to ICC safe houses which are in Uganda, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).-nation.co.ke

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