Fog of Words

Fog of Words

After a long run up, the historical trial against the Kenyan vice-president William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang is finally starting at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. One day before the opening the parties gave their perspectives during a press conference. Camera’s started clicking ferociously when Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda took the floor. She explained why her office had starting criminal investigations into the violence that errupted in Kenya after the elections in 2007. During those dreadful days more than 1000 Kenyans were killed, 3000 people were brutally mained and others sexually abused, hundreds of thousands of families had to flee. This violence ‘deeply shocked the conscience of humanity,’ she stated. While years had passed without the Kenyan authorities having initiated proper criminal investigations, the ICC prosecutor stepped in. ‘Now justice must run its course,’ Bensouda explained. ‘This is a milestone for the victims.’

Not only Ruto and Sang are being prosecuted, so is Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta whose trial will start in November. The three men are being charged with crimes against humanity. It has not been an easy ride, Bensouda explained. During their investigations the prosecutors had to overcome many ‘obstacles’ in Kenya. Witnesses have been threatened and offered big bribes. It is unclear how many, but a number has withdrawn from the cases. Bensouda thanked the witnesses who stay on for their ‘courage’ and ‘extreme sacrifices for justice’, and added: ‘Your safety and security is our main priority.’

The interfering is ongoing, according to Bensouda. ‘It is organized and it is happening.’ The persons involved go ‘at great length to cover their identity,’ she explained. Her office is investigating these criminal activities, which carry a maximum of five years in prison. ‘But I don’t want to sit here saying my case is strong or weak because of witnesses pulling out.’

Karim Khan however, the outspoken and media savy lawyer for William Ruto, had no problem saying what he thought of Bensouda’s work. He spoke of a ‘lamentable shamble’ and a parody of justice’. The accusations that witnesses were bribed and intimidated was sheer ‘nonsense.’ Then he predicted the outcome of the trial. ‘This case will fall apart’, Khan said, because of the wrong target (his client) and inefficient investigations. In the end ‘we will not know who was responsible, but we will know who is not responsible.’ Khan also had a message from his client ‘to my brothers and sisters’ in Kenya. ‘We want witnesses to come and to tell the truth,’ because then ‘we will see concocted stories.’ Lying in court is wrong and ‘must lead to imprisonment,’ Khan continued. ‘No one should sell their soul to lie.’ He warned that it is ‘not so easy to deceive as people think.’

It seemed on one hand a very clear message, understandable from the point of view of the defence. But an ICC-watcher had a different feeling. This expert thought it actually sounded quite threatening to witnesses, who probably already feel nervous about their performance in court.

How strong is the Kenyan case? It is difficult to see through the ‘Fog of Words’. Despite the hours of statements, even for seasoned ICC-watchers it is hard to guess who is right. In the end it will be up to the judges. So much patience is needed, because unless the case collapses (as Khan predicts), it will take years before the trials are done, the verdicts are pronounced. For now the public will have to do with the Fog of Words.