Kenyan government must act urgently to end impunity and bring about essential reforms

“Kenya has a long history of serious human rights violations but it now has an opportunity to turn the page,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, concluding the high-level mission to Kenya. “Successive Kenyan governments have been good at establishing Commissions and Taskforces and poor at implementing their recommendations. This government must not repeat that pattern.” Amnesty International welcomed the high level access and the frank and open dialogue with the Kenyan authorities, but found deep differences within the Government, both on the perception of the human rights situation in Kenya and on the extent and nature of reform needed. “Time is running out and the government must act urgently to build consensus on fundamental human rights issues,” said Khan. The Accord and the establishment of the Coalition Government presented a window of opportunity to break the persistent culture of impunity and bring about much needed constitutional, legal and institutional reform. However, political discord and divisions within the government are strangling the opportunity for change. Six months after the Waki Commission published its report there has been no concrete action to tackle impunity for widespread and serious human rights violations committed by the police and security forces during the post-electoral violence. Extensive research and documentation by reputable national and international organizations, including Amnesty International has highlighted longstanding and widespread human rights violations, including unlawful killings, extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances by police and security forces. “Government Ministers assured Amnesty International of their commitment to reform, the first step in any change process is to acknowledge the problem. The government’s denial of the widespread nature of the problem reflects a palpable lack of political will to take concrete and decisive action,” said Ms Khan. “Government ministers have acknowledged that constitutional amendments and new laws will be necessary to bring about police and judicial reform. It is imperative on the government collectively and on political leaders within the government individually to take responsibility to create the necessary consensus for change.”

• Tackle urgently impunity for human rights abuses committed during the post-elections violence

The Amnesty International delegation was assured by the government that a new proposed law will be introduced shortly to establish the Special Tribunal.

“Simply re-introducing a new law is not enough. Both sides of the government must work together with unity of purpose to build the necessary political support for the tribunal,” said Ms Khan. 

Amnesty International says the redrafted law should be informed by wide consultations with civil society and the public. The proposed tribunal must be consistent with international law, and must be independent of political or other interference. “Waiting for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to intervene would be an abdication of responsibility by the Kenyan government and Parliament,” said Ms Khan. Under the Rome Statute of the ICC – to which Kenya is a party – state parties are under an obligation to establish local processes that are complementary to the ICC process. As such, the process of establishing a local judicial tribunal must not be seen as a polar opposite to the ICC process but as a test of this government’s readiness to fight impunity.

• Institute fundamental judicial, police and security sector reform

“Root and branch reform of the judiciary, police and security forces has been long overdue. The post-electoral violence created a new urgency,” said Ms Khan.

“We are encouraged by the efforts being made by the government to consult with civil society on judicial reforms,” said Ms Khan noting the establishment of the judicial reform taskforce. The government must act decisively and urgently on the recommendations of the police reform taskforce to make the police and security forces more effective and accountable. An independent police complaints commission must be an essential element of the reform. “The taskforce on police reform should not be an exercise in window dressing as has happened in the past,” said Ms Khan. “Forward-looking reforms will not be credible unless concrete measures are taken to address past impunity.” Amnesty International calls on the Kenyan authorities to establish, without delay, an independent and impartial public inquiry into human rights abuses committed by armed groups as well as the Kenyan police and security personnel in the Mount Elgon region and in operations involving the Mungiki. The purpose of the inquiry should be to identify persons responsible for the human rights abuses so that they can be brought to justice. • Truth, justice and reconciliation process must not allow impunity “The truth, justice and reconciliation process cannot, and should not, be a substitute for prosecution of individuals responsible for past human rights abuses,” said Khan. The proposed legislative amendment that is currently in Parliament to remove provisions allowing for amnesties and pardons is a welcome development. The government must work to ensure its adoption. One key obstacle to the truth, justice and reconciliation process is the lack of a comprehensive witness protection programme. This must be rectified urgently if the process is to be meaningful. The ongoing process of appointing Commissioners of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) must be made open and transparent to ensure the independence and impartiality of the TJRC is fully respected. • Protect Human rights defenders In the last year, human rights defenders have been the subject of killings, targeted threats and intimidation. A number of them complained to the Amnesty International delegation that their space to organize is being restricted by the authorities. The legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders is being questioned and their security jeopardized by hostile statements from police and government representatives. “The Kenyan authorities must unequivocally acknowledge the legitimate role of human rights defenders to carry out their work and ensure their safety,” said Khan. On 5 March, Oscar Kamau Kingara and Paul Oulu who both worked with the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic (the Oscar Foundation) were killed execution-style in the middle of Nairobi by two unknown gunmen. The FBI offered to provide support to the authorities in investigating these killings. This offer was not accepted. Almost four months later, there is a shameful lack of progress in police investigations and no indication that the perpetrators will be apprehended and brought to justice.  Amnesty International calls on Kenyan authorities to ensure thorough, impartial and independent investigations into the killings and to identify and prosecute the alleged perpetrators. “Kenyan political leaders across the board must rise above partisan and vested political interests to ensure that respect for human rights and accountability for past human rights violations is a central part of all government policy and strategy. “If Kenya fails to fight impunity for human rights abuses, it will be storing serious problems for the future. “This Coalition Government has a chance – if it is willing to take it – to prove that power-sharing is not just a matter of politics but a real opportunity to bring about change for the benefit of the Kenyan people,” said Ms Khan.