Africa

Kenya police's executions policy slammed

Xan Rice

Police killings during the post-election violence in January 2008 and a counter-insurgency campaign have been criticised by human rights groups.

Brutal executions carried out by Kenyan security forces were condemned this week by a top United Nations investigator, who called on President Mwai Kibaki to sack his police chief and attorney general because of the outrage.

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, issued one of the UN’s strongest indictments yet of Kenya’s culture of impunity in a hard-hitting report following a 10-day investigation into the alleged killings. “I have received overwhelming testimony that there exists in Kenya a systematic, widespread and well-planned strategy to execute individuals,” Alston told a news conference in Nairobi.

His comments came a day after the government-appointed Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) released a videotaped testimony by a police constable who described in chilling detail how he witnessed the killing of 58 people in a year while working as a driver for a police death squad. The whistleblower, Bernard Kiriinya, was himself murdered four months after giving his testimony and going into hiding in Nairobi last year.

A police spokesman this week strongly denied KNCHR’s allegations of extrajudicial killings, despite mounting evidence against the security forces in recent years. But the strongly-worded UN report by Alston, an Australian law professor at New York University, will be far more difficult to ignore.

Alston was highly critical of Hussein Ali, the police commissioner appointed by Kibaki from the military nearly five years ago, saying he had failed to respond adequately to any of the allegations of extrajudicial killings. Ali’s “immediate dismissal” should be the first step in police reforms, Alston said.

Referring to Attorney General Amos Waki, Alston said: “Mr Waki is the embodiment in Kenya of the phenomenon of impunity.” Kibaki, who has a record of refusing to censure those close to him, also came in for strong criticism. “His silence to date on this issue [of extrajudicial executions] is both conspicuous and problematic,” Alston said.

Police killings during the post-election violence in January 2008 and a counter-insurgency campaign in western Kenya a few months later have been well documented and heavily criticised by human rights organisations. But it is the insider details of the campaign against the Mungiki, which is notorious for its macabre initiation rituals and runs extortion rackets, that may offer the strongest evidence of planning and high-level complicity in the extrajudicial executions.

During the murder missions, officers disguised themselves in hired cars, and typically strangled their victims, shot them from behind or clubbed or hacked them to death, Kiriinya said. The bodies were disfigured to prevent identification and dumped in forests or remote woodland areas around Nairobi. Officers in the death squad were given bonuses of up to 15 000 shillings for “good work” after an execution, he said.

After recording his testimony Kiriinya briefly left Kenya for a neighbouring country but returned to Nairobi to try to arrange a permanent move to safety. On October 16 last year, he was lured out of his safe house and shot in the back of the head.—

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