, THE HAGUE, Sep 17 – The first witness in Kenya Deputy President William Ruto’s crimes against humanity trial broke down on Tuesday as she told the International Criminal Court how a mob torched a church with her and many others inside.
“The church was set alight,” the woman, whose identity is protected and referred to as “Witness P0536”, said before she started to sob.
The prosecution alleges that the mob was part of a plan of ethnic violence orchestrated by Ruto to “satisfy his thirst for power” after disputed 2007 elections. More than 1,000 people died.
“We were all trying to find a way to escape. I was carrying my small child with me,” the witness recalled on the opening day of the prosecution’s case against Ruto.
The witness’s face was pixellated on television screens and her voice disguised as she testified in Swahili.
Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji then cut short proceedings to give the witness a “chance to compose yourself”.
Earlier she told judges how “about 3,000… youths” surrounded the church where she and about 2,000 others were hiding.
“They were painted with white clay… some had machetes, axes and sticks,” she said, adding “they were singing”.
Ruto, 46, and his co-accused, journalist Joshua arap Sang, 38, stand accused of organising and stoking the worst violence in the east African country since independence in 1963. They are pleading not guilty.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ruto’s former political foe turned ally, begins his own trial for crimes against humanity at the court on November 12. He also proclaims his innocence.
Prosecutors opened their case against Ruto looking at the church massacre at Kiambaa village, about 11 kilometres (seven miles) south of the western Rift Valley town of Eldoret, on New Year’s Day, 2008.
The prosecution alleges that between 17 to 35 people were burnt alive after supporters of Ruto’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) locked ethnic Kikuyus in the church and set it on fire.
“Those who attempted to flee were hacked to death,” the prosecution said in court documents.
At the start of the high-stakes trial last week, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda accused Ruto and Sang of being behind the violence.
Ruto and Sang each face three charges of murder, deportation and persecution.