April 5, 2011 / 11:49 AM / 8 years ago

Kenyan election violence victims cry for justice

KIAMBAA, Kenya (Reuters) - The fire scorched the skin off both of her legs, but Mary Mumbi and her newborn son survived the worst single attack of Kenya’s post-election violence when a mob torched a church, killing nearly 30 people.

Members of the civil society demonstrate in support of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Kenya's capital Nairobi January 18, 2011. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Kalenjin youth armed with machetes slashed at men outside the pentecostal church and forced women and children inside the mud-brick building, before turning it into an inferno by setting alight petrol-soaked mattresses on New Year’s Day 2008.

“This lit up the church and smoke started billowing in,” said Mumbi, 34. “I looked around and saw a disabled woman who had fallen off her wheelchair and was feebly crawling away from the fire. An old blind woman I knew was screaming that she was burning.”

This week, six Kenyans accused of crimes against humanity in countrywide violence that killed more than 1,220 people after the disputed December 27, 2007 ballot will make initial appearances at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

A report by a Kenyan judicial commission said the incident at the church, which grabbed world headlines, was the deliberate burning alive of members of President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.

The killers had accused those cowering in the church of voting for Kibaki, whom his rival said had stolen the election.

The compound where the razed church once stood is now a graveyard for those killed in the fire, the main flashpoint of the violence that shocked Kenya and severely damaged the east African nation’s reputation for stability in a turbulent region.

Nearly 500,000 people, including Mumbi, were uprooted from their homes during the violence. Only a handful have gone back, and are fearful of fresh attacks.

As fire engulfed the church in Kiambaa near Eldoret, 300 km (188 miles) northwest of the capital Nairobi, Mumbi ran to a small window set high in the wall and dropped her shawl-wrapped child outside.

“My legs were on fire. I managed to crawl through an opening and pleaded with the attackers to spare me and my child.”

“IF ICC FAILS, IMPUNITY WINS”

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has accused Kenyan cabinet ministers William Ruto, de facto leader of the Kalenjin, and fellow tribesman Henry Kosgey of coordinating the attacks by their tribesmen. Both have been suspended from their portfolios to face separate graft charges.

Radio executive Joshua arap Sang is also named as a suspect, accused of using broadcasts to incite the raiders.

The three are due to appear at The Hague on Thursday. Charges include murder, forcible transfer of population, political persecution, torture and rape.

Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the president’s main election rival who agreed to share power to end the fighting, are at odds over the cases, polarising the nation.

Kibaki wants them heard locally, saying Kenya is not a failed state and its judiciary is competent. Odinga backs the ICC, saying a local mechanism could be manipulated.

A majority of Kenyans side with Odinga, according to a poll published on Tuesday, and support for a local tribunal has dropped since a previous survey in December.

Ken Wafula, an Eldoret-based human rights defender who has worked with victims of the violence, sees The Hague process as vital to ending impunity before the 2012 polls.

“If the ICC process fails, we will have set this country on fire. That will mean that impunity has won,” he said. “The people down here are still harbouring mistrust and suspicion.”

The Kalenjin attacks sparked tit for tat strikes by Kikuyu militia. This led to a separate ICC case against Kenyan Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been crowned “King of the Kikuyu” and is the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta.

Kenyatta and Ruto have since criss-crossed Kenya, holding rallies to blame Odinga for their woes and saying he implicated them. The prime minister denies the accusations.

Two other suspects named alongside Kenyatta are cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura and former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali. The three appear at The Hague on Friday.

TIT FOR TAT VIOLENCE

The worst revenge attacks which left dozens dead or maimed, were north of the capital in Naivasha, on the shores of a lake visited by tourists and the hub of a thriving flower industry.

Gangs of young Kikuyus armed with clubs and machetes torched homes and businesses belonging to Kalenjins and Luos, Odinga’s tribe. In the election, Ruto’s Kalenjin had sided with Odinga against Kibaki.

Yusila Cherono, a 41-year-old Kalenjin working at a flower factory in Naivasha, was chased by a mob of young men. A blow on her back sent her crashing to the ground.

“They raped me in turns, the animals,” she sobs. “I counted up to 10, 11 men ... then I passed out.”

The single mother of a 20-year-old daughter now spends most of her time lying in bed at a friend’s house in Eldoret. The blow affected her spine, paralysing her right leg.

“I cannot go to the toilet by myself. I’m now a cripple. I’m also crippled as a woman, I lost my uterus,” she said. “Let them go to ICC. We can’t get justice in a Kenyan court.”

Mumbi’s son survived the fall from the burning church window and is now three years old. The family now lives far from its abandoned farm in Kiambaa.

“I can never go back there, I’m so afraid,” said Mumbi, who spent a year in hospitals undergoing reconstructive surgery.

Editing by David Clarke and Jeffrey Heller

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