, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 4 – Nigerian-born lawyer Morris Azuma Anyah is the hope of 233 Kenyan victims of the 2008 post election violence in Naivasha and Nakuru.
He is their legal representative at the International Criminal Court in a case against Francis Muthaura, Uhuru Kenyatta and Hussein Ali.
Born in Nigeria and now an American citizen, Anyah has established an international reputation in the past 16 years practicing criminal law across the globe both as a prosecutor and defence attorney.
“My practise has taken me to different parts of the world. I have been a prosecutor before; I have done defence work and now in the context of Kenya I am a victims’ representative,” he explains.
Anyah has been the hope of victims of accidents, wrongful deaths, medical malpractices and disasters he represented, probably an indication that his Kenyan clients will become beneficiaries of his professionalism, should the cases proceed forth.
“I have done defence work in Atlanta and personal litigation on behalf of victims… those affected by catastrophes and I managed to get them compensation,” soft spoken Anyah asserts.
The lawyer whose deep concerns and empathy for the victims is easily noticeable in the way he talks about them says his worst moments are when his clients share their sorrows and suffering yet there are no resources to help them out of their tribulations.
“I have the sadness of losing some of my clients to death. Victims have gone through life threatening experiences… it is disheartening to see them suffer so much. Some of them are too fragile to wait for the end of the criminal process,” he says.
When emotions accompany a legal process, Anyah’s role becomes even more difficult as he goes out of his way not just to present views of the victims but to also give them psychosocial support through counselling.
“As a lawyer, I feel obligated and concerned with the well being of the victims. I perform a psychological function. I meet with them and re-assure them that they will not be neglected as far as the case is concerned,” he told Capital News during his second visit in Kenya.
Appointed by the ICC to represent the victims on August 26, 2011, Anyah says while relaying their personal interests to the court he informs them of the proceedings at the court.
He explains, “I also keep them aware of what is happening; mind you The Hague is miles and miles away. My job is to tell them the story as it is, to tell them where the case stands right now, where we see it going and to solicit their views and as we go forward what issues matter to them and what I can convey on their behalf.”
It is of course not an easy job for the lawyer who has been twice a prosecutor in Chicago and at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
Kenyan victims lost property, some were raped, a fraction have missing body parts while others have permanent marks that will ensure memories of the 2008 post election violence stick in their mind as long as they live.
And that is Anyah’s biggest challenge.
The lawyer who has served also as an appeals and trial counsel in high profile cases in Arusha, Atlanta, and Chicago and at The Hague says he has to make victims understand that they have to wait for the legal process which may take years for them to get any form of compensation.
He explains; “The honesty requires that they realise how long (cases) take, also realise it is a complicated process, meaning we have the trial first and only if someone is convicted do you get to the second phase of the process which involves reparation.”
The cases also may not be concluded soon. “A legal process is a long one. It takes quite some time, easily a number of years.”
On the other hand it is not easy to tell them that they may not get the compensation in the way they aspired as reparation takes different forms.
According to Anyah, once there are convictions, the court can decide to ask the accused to pay a community or an individual which in monetary terms or a service.
“Collective or community reparation is where the court orders that an accused provide a community service to a group, build a school, health facility and can be combined with individual compensation which can be monetary or any other remedy that is appropriate for the particular case including psychosocial counselling and rehabilitative measures,” explains Anyah.
Being a victims’ representative in a country that has not just the 233 that he represents, Anyah is very careful when dealing with them since other victims he doesn’t represent attend his meetings.
“I certainly do not want the victims to feel re-victimised at the end of the process. I realise people who have been victimised have to be approached with some delicacy. It is hard sometimes to differentiate between other victims and those who I represent, all I do is to make a distinction and not turn them away just because they are not in the list I represent,” he explains.
Anyah who also represented former Liberian President Charles Taylor before a Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague is also a counsel at the ICC.
Within his 16 years of experience in criminal law, he also argued in a genocide case against former Rwandese Prime Minister Jean Kambanda.
Even as he looks forward expecting that his clients will one day be compensated, Anyah hopes that Kenyans can live together by replacing their tribal differences with strengths that can explore their diverse culture through peace and harmony.