A government-funded human rights group has accused a former Kenyan cabinet minister of trying to derail upcoming International Criminal Court trials.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said William Ruto should be investigated for allegedly persuading three men in a witness protection programme to recant statements implicating him in the post-election violence of 2007.
The men’s statements have not been taken up by the ICC, but at one point this year they had been considered as witnesses for the tribunal, which sits at The Hague in the Netherlands.
ICC judges have authorised prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to investigate the Kenya case, but no charges or indictments have yet been made.
Mr Moreno Ocampo has said Kenya’s case amounts to crimes against humanity and he expects, before the end of the year, to charge up to six suspects who bear the greatest responsibility.
The demand by the human rights commission caps almost two weeks during which the ICC investigation has consistently made the headlines in Kenya over Mr Ruto, who was higher education minister until last month.
Mr Ruto has been trying to clear his name since he was first implicated in a report on the violence that the commission released in August 2008 and which has become a reference for all subsequent investigations, including the ICC’s.
In a surprise move, on November 3 Mr Ruto went to The Hague at his own expense after volunteering to record a statement with the ICC. There he spent 30 hours giving his version of events to investigators.
Upon returning home earlier this week, he claimed the commission bribed witnesses to implicate him. The day after Mr Ruto returned, the three men who had earlier co-operated with the government-funded commission signed sworn statements recanting the allegations they had made against him.
In their statements, obtained by The Associated Press, they claimed they implicated Mr Ruto because the commission bribed them to do so.
They said the commission paid their rent in an upmarket area of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, gave them a monthly income and promised to relocate them outside the country in exchange for their false evidence.
They claimed one of the organisation’s commissioners, Hassan Omar Hassan, coached and coerced them to name Mr Ruto in their statements.
But Mr Hassan said what the men said were bribes were standard payments for the commission’s witness protection programme. He said Mr Ruto may be trying to derail the ICC process by discrediting potential witnesses.
During a news conference yesterday Mr Hassan said the three men sought the commission’s protection after it released its report into the violence that saw more than 1,000 people killed between December 2007 and February 2008, during the most tumultuous two months Kenya had experienced since independence from Britain in 1963.
Though the men’s testimony did not form part of the commission’s report, it took them under its witness protection programme because they had given evidence to police and a separate government inquiry and felt threatened.
Mr Hassan said they were only recanting their statements now because they found out two weeks ago that they were not going to make the ICC’s witness list and were unlikely to be relocated abroad.
The ICC rejected their evidence because the three men were suspected to be aiding or working for government agencies including the government’s spy agency, Mr Hassan said in a separate interview.
Another commission member, Fatuma Ibrahim, defended Hassan against the allegations that he had coached or coerced the three men.
“When impunity is well entrenched in a country, it will fight back by throwing mud at those who are fighting it,” he said.