The assassinations of two human rights
investigators in Kenya last week and the subsequent killing of a student
protesting their deaths have generated calls for an independent probe and an
offer of help from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said
Monday that two FBI agents will help Kenyan investigators look for leads.
Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu of the Oscar Foundation Legal Aid Clinic were
shot dead last Thursday in broad daylight by unidentified gunmen who blocked
their car during a traffic jam near the University of Nairobi. Police deny any role in the murders, which
many see as extrajudicial killings. At the time of their deaths, the two Oscar
Foundation workers, Kamau and Oulu, were looking into alleged police
involvement in a long line of indiscriminate and targeted slayings executed
with a disproportionate use of force. Spokesperson
Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch observes that law enforcement officials in Kenya are often cited for using lethal
force against members of a violent Kenyan group known as the Mungiki sect and
for acting ruthlessly in the wake of last year's post-election violence.
not forget that the police have become known for using excessive force in many
different situations across Kenya.
During the post-election violence in 2008, for example, the police were
responsible for many deaths and many injuries in Kisumu against
protesters. They've been responsible in
joint security operations with the military.
They've been responsible for systematic torture of detainees, so that
the problem of abuses by police is actually much larger and much broader in
scope and scale than just these particular incidents. And that's one of the reasons why police
reform is so urgently needed," she said.
admitting that gangland style violence involving the brutal tactics of the Mungiki
group has prompted law enforcement agents to operate aggressively, Human Rights
Watch says that reports on the retaliation point out that lots of others are
being gunned down in the process.
Oscar Foundation was an organization that was looking specifically at the
police role in extrajudicial killings of real or perceived supporters of the
Mungiki sect, which started out as a kind of cultural movement and has become
known more for its criminal activities, as a criminal gang, if you will. And there's been at least 500 people who have
allegedly been killed by the police over the last couple of years for being
supporters of this group. And the Oscar
Foundation had released a report about these killings the year before last and
had testified a number of times. And so
they were quite prominent as advocates to try to warn about police involvement
in these killings and to push for reform," Lefkow noted.
February, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings in Kenya, Philip
Alston blasted government officials for failing to respond effectively to curb
the use of excessive force. Leslie Lefkow
says that Human Rights Watch sees the need for a comprehensive, independent
investigation of the violence that will be transparent and informative to the
Kenyan public of all the mistakes that have been made because, she notes, it
will help people to overcome a long-festering bitterness and frustration that
periodically resurfaces among Kenyans in times of national stress, most
particularly during general election cycles.
"This incident is symbolic of the very deep
well of anger and concern that is growing among Kenyans. And of course, the post-election violence in
2008 took the lid off this anger and grievances, many of which go back many
years. That kind of election violence –
we saw similar levels of violence and similar numbers of deaths in the nineties
after each electoral cycle. So in some
ways, it shouldn't have been a surprise.
But I think that what we are seeing is that if these very deep-seeded
grievances, this lack of patience with the police, with impunity, with
corruption, with massive, systematic human rights abuses going unaddressed, if
these cycles of abuses don't end, I fear that we will see Kenya heading into
another downward spiral of violence," Lefkow warned.
Prime Minister Odinga has welcomed FBI participation in the police probe, Human
Rights Watch notes that Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki also needs to acknowledge
the problems caused by extrajudicial killings.
Among the measures the group recommends include the need for broad
police reforms, establishment of an independent police oversight board,
replacement of the police commissioner (implicated in some of the killings) and
the attorney general, and the setting up of a special tribunal to prosecute the
purveyors of post-election violence. Lefkow
is hopeful that the raised level of public attention from the latest incidents will
prompt the Kibaki government to restore order to Kenya's law enforcement
"I would hope that all members of the
coalition government would see this latest incident as a wakeup call that they
need to act quickly and in a unified way to implement the reforms and the
recommendations that are needed to move Kenya forward very quickly," she