William Ruto (31795)

Sep. 10 (GIN) – Kenya’s Vice President, William Ruto, at the opening day of his trial for the slaughter of rival Kikuyu people in post-election violence, declared himself “not guilty” to a trio of serious charges issued against him by the International Criminal Court.

Ruto, a Kalenjin, allegedly formed an army which attacked and killed Kikuyus after his party candidate, Raila Odinga, was defeated in a presidential poll. Over 200 Kikuyus were killed by the vigilantes, thousands were injured and many more lost their homes, according to riveting testimony presented to the judges hearing the case in The Hague, Netherlands.

In the worst single incident, 17 Kikuyu civilians, mostly women and children, were burnt alive by a Kalenjin mob while sheltering in a church near Eldoret, in the Rift Valley province. Kikuyu militias later launched reprisal attacks against other communities.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, delivering the opening salvo in the controversial trial of Kenya’s current political leaders, painted a grim picture of Kenya in 2007 – a nation at the mercy of warring political groups. “It is difficult to imagine the suffering or the terror of the men, women and children who were burned alive, hacked to death or chased from their homes by armed youths,” she said.

Mr. Ruto’s co-defendant, the broadcaster Joshua arap Sang, is accused of using his popular radio show to whip up hatred against Kikuyus and even broadcast coded instructions to direct attackers to their targets.

The terror campaign was ignited by the victory of presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki. Uhuru Kenyatta, now President, was in Kibaki’s camp and allegedly unleashed vigilantes against supporters of the defeated Raila Odinga. Ruto, in the Odinga camp, targeted pro-Kibaki communities.

Mr Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta are both charged with orchestrating violence after the 2007 vote. They are being tried separately by the ICC.

Altogether, 1,200 people died in the disturbances and 600,000 abandoned homes and went into hiding.

Plans to have Kenyans investigate and try suspects for the post election violence were dashed, said Bensouda, when the government declined to set up a special tribunal for that purpose.

“Too many people have forgotten the intensive efforts of the International Criminal Court throughout 2008 and 2009 to encourage Kenya to establish genuine national proceedings,” she said.

Seated this week in the courtroom surrounded by supporters, Ruto seemed relaxed, observers said. Asked how he pleaded to murder, persecution and the forcible transfer of people, Ruto replied: “Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.”

Mr Ruto’s defense lawyer, Karim Khan, called the charges against his client “a conspiracy of lies”.

Meanwhile, thousands of victims of the post-election violence still live in camps for the internally displaced. The connection between the proceedings at The Hague, and their own efforts to seek justice and redress, are hard to fathom for some. w/pix of W. Ruto