Willie Kimani's Murder is Wake Up Call to Police Reform Failures


By Christopher Gitari

The brazen abduction, enforced disappearance, and brutal murder of human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda, and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri is a wake-up call to the National Police Service to finally deal with rotten elements within its rank and file.

The national and international shock and outcry following their murders should renew calls for the reform of Kenya’s security sector.

Four police officers Fredrick Leliman, Stephen Cheburet, Sylvia Wanjiku and Leonard Mwangi have been charged with the murders of the three.

Kenyans expect nothing short of thorough investigations and prosecution of those responsible for these heinous acts including the conspirators to the crime.

The Inspector General Joseph Boinnet and Director of Criminal Investigations Ndegwa Muhoro must be aware that confidence in their leadership may be completely lost if investigations are bungled, as has been seen in past incidents.

While the circumstances were different, the murders of the three bear all the hallmarks of cases documented by various government and non-governmental agencies in which the police are suspected of systematically executing or forcibly disappearing Kenyans for mere suspicion of being members of organised criminal groups such as the Mungiki, al Shabaab, and Sabaot Land Defence Force.

According to reports, victims have been abducted, illegally detained, brutally tortured, and then executed, with official permission or knowledge. With the killing of these three, the eight demonstrators in Kisumu and Siaya, and hundreds of individuals allegedly linked to terrorism, it can be concluded that all of the security sector reforms, especially of the police, that was foreseen in the Constitution has failed to bring about much-needed changes.

It is not far-fetched to question efforts at human rights training and education of police in the face of these horrific events.

It suggests that little has been learned or gained in the years since the 2007 post-election violence about how to prevent such violations.

In fact, it increases the likelihood that serious violations could happen again in another episode of postelection crisis. Currently there is a petition by victims of past injustices before the National Assembly to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

However, government and MPs continue to ignore the reality of serious gross human rights violations, such as torture and extra-judicial executions, and refuse to advance this petition urging them to implement the TJRC Recommendations, which include proposals for critical reforms and redress measures the country so desperately needs and are long overdue.

Political commitment and a leadership deficit remains a major cause of the lack of the institutional changes on the security sector called for in the TJRC recommendations and envisioned by the Constitution.

Given the Government’s outright refusal to acknowledge systematic extra-judicial executions and enforced disappearances of Kenyans, it has become increasingly difficult to pursue a complete transformation of the National Police Service.

For example, the police-vetting process led by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) has failed to communicate a strong accountability message to the police or even act as a deterrent against gross human rights violations. The human rights community worry about NPSC’s timidity in removing superior commanders accused of gross human rights violations and its inability to exert disciplinary control over the NPS should be cause for concern.

NPSC’s possible disbandment and reconstitution should now be part of serious reflection by stakeholders. There is an urgent need to conduct an effective police reform process to ensure that crimes like this are never repeated. Superior commanders must also be held accountable, as established under the law, for the criminal actions of officers under their command and supervision.

President Uhuru Kenyatta should swiftly and unequivocally acknowledge widespread systematic extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, and other serious human rights violations committed by the police. This should be accompanied by the establishment of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate and identify those behind the long spate of such crimes in Kenya.

The tragedy is terrible for the three lives lost. It is made even graver by the problems that led to these crimes having been amply identified.

Many of the policy proposals we need to put an end to these kinds of crimes have been established but are floundering, and others have been identified in the TJRC´s recommendations and are still waiting for Parliament to address them.

This horrible act reminds us to finally take security sector reform seriously and make changes to this sector within the desires of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

This article was originally published in The Star

Photo: Hundreds of Kenyans including human rights activists, lawyers and taxi operators hold a peaceful protest in Nairobi, Kenya, against alleged pervasive killings and disappearances linked to police. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)