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Denial and dismissal

On 5 March, Oscar Kingara and John Oulu were shot dead in suspicious circumstances. Both were staff members of the Oscar Foundation, an organization recently involved in documenting the extrajudicial executions of members of a militia organization known as Mungiki. They were heading to a meeting with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights when their vehicle was blocked by two cars – one of which was allegedly driven by a man in police uniform – and sprayed with bullets. Hours before their deaths, a Government spokesperson had accused them of supporting Mungiki.

To date, no-one has been arrested or charged with the two murders, and an offer by the US Embassy in Nairobi to bring in FBI officers to assist in the investigations has been rejected.

Since the murders, almost 40 of Kenya’s human rights defenders have had to seek protection after receiving threats. One person has been physically attacked, and about 20 have had to leave the country.

The majority are university students who have worked with the Oscar Foundation on the extrajudicial murders of alleged Mungiki members. Others worked with local human rights organizations in western Kenya on the disappearances and torture of civilians during a joint army and police operation against another armed group known as the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF). All of them had recently presented evidence to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Professor Philip Alston. At the end of his mission in February, Alston was damning about the conduct of Kenya’s security services in addressing crime, calling for the removal of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General for having failed to halt the murders.

A mediation process brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last year, acting on behalf of the African Union, called for the disarmament and demobilization of all armed groups in Kenya and the restoration of fundamental rights and freedoms. But the Kenyan Government seems to have no idea how to achieve this. Recent military operations have resulted in public outcries about human rights violations – from the use of excessive force to assault, rape and theft – and calls for due process: for suspects to be assumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The mounting pile of damning evidence from both local and international human rights organizations is either denied by the State as lacking in evidence, or dismissed as being supportive of criminality. This despite the fact that a recent report by the Commission of Inquiry into the Post Elections Violence found that almost a third of the thousand or more deaths that occurred during the 2008 elections happened at the hands of the security services. It also found that the security services had committed other crimes and human rights violations, ranging from theft to rape. And it made far-reaching recommendations for security sector reform, including the institution of credible internal and external accountability mechanisms for all security service officers who breach the constitution and the law. Only when these recommendations are followed through will Kenyan citizens achieve security services worthy of the name.

L Muthoni Wanyeki is the Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)

New Internationalist issue 423 magazine cover This article is from the June 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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