UN rights expert calls on Kenya to confront ‘widespread’ police killings

25 February 2009

A United Nations independent human rights expert today called on the President of Kenya to acknowledge, and take steps to end, what he called “systematic, widespread and carefully planned” police killings in the East African country.

“Effective leadership on this issue can only come from the very top, and sweeping reforms to the policing sector should begin with the immediate dismissal of the Police Commissioner,” Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said in a press statement released at the conclusion of a ten-day fact-finding mission.

“Further, given his role in encouraging the impunity that exists in Kenya, the Attorney-General should resign so that the integrity of the office can be restored,” he added.

Mr. Alston, a Professor of Law at New York University who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in an independent, unpaid capacity, concluded that police killings “are committed at will and with utter impunity,” after travelling the country and conducting interviews with over 100 victims and witnesses.

He concluded that death squads were set up upon the orders of senior police officials to exterminate the Mungiki, an underground religious sect reported by media to be responsible for a range of criminality in the capital, Nairobi.

He said he also found compelling evidence that the police and military committed organised torture and extrajudicial executions against civilians during a 2008 operation to flush out a militia known as the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF).

“For two years, the SLDF militia terrorized the population and the Government did far too little. And when the Government did finally act, they responded with their own form of terror and brutality, killing over 200 people,” he said, advocating for an independent investigation.

With respect to accountability for violence that followed disputed elections at the beginning of 2008, the Special Rapporteur stated that the Special Tribunal for Kenya was “absolutely indispensable to ensure that Kenya does not again descend into chaos during the 2012 elections.”

He called on civil society and the international community to take a firm stand on the tribunal’s establishment, adding that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should take up the case concurrently, on a parallel track.

Among other recommendations, Mr. Alston called for the establishment of a civilian police oversight body, the centralization of records of police killings, and the payment of compensation for the victims of those unlawfully killed.

In addition to victims and witnesses, the Special Rapporteur also met during his visit with senior Government officials and representatives of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and independent national human rights institutions.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

UN agency head condemns murder of Kenyan journalist

The chief of the United Nations agency that champions press freedom today condemned the murder of a Kenyan journalist who had investigated police corruption and whose beheaded body was found in a forest on 29 January.