Witness in Kenyan ICC case murdered

Murder fuels accusations of state complicity

A potential defence witness in the International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Kenya's deputy president William Ruto has been murdered ahead of the trial's resumption on 19 January.

Meshack Yebei's lawyer says his client would have been called as a witness for Ruto, who stands accused of crimes against humanity in connection with violence in which at least 1,200 people died and up to 600,000 were displaced in the aftermath of Kenya's 2007 elections.

However, prior to his murder, the ICC said Yebei had been implicated in efforts to corrupt witnesses in the trial, and as a result prosecutors had not planned to call him as a witness. The ICC has since confirmed that Yebei had been offered protection but was not on the prosecution witness list at the time of his death.

Following his disappearance in late December, Yebei's mutilated body was discovered in a river in Kapsabet in western Kenya in early January, fuelling accusations of state complicity in his death.

Some political analysts believe that the ICC prosectors could attempt to link Yebei's murder to allegations of witness bribery and intimidation in Ruto's trial, which also includes Kenyan radio journalist Joshua Arap Sang. Both men are accused of orchestrating violence, rape, forcible transfer and persecution in the aftermath of the December 2007 polls which saw the controversial election of Mwai Kibaki as president, despite widespread allegations of electoral manipulation.

Similar charges against incumbent Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, were dropped in December after ICC prosecutors accused Kenya of failing to cooperate and engaging in a campaign of witness bribery and intimidation, including exposing the identities of witnesses on social media.

Kenyatta maintained his innocence throught the process and vowed to fight on until charges are also dropped against Ruto and Arap Sang. The trial resumes at the Hague-based court on 19 January.