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Kenyan Justice Minister Calls for Disbanding of Truth Commission

  • Michael Onyiego

The commission tasked with investigating the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya has been embroiled in controversy in recent weeks. Many in the country feel it is incapable of fulfilling its mandate, and the Kenyan government is now seeking its dismissal.

In a letter written Thursday Kenya's Minister of Justice, Mutula Kilonzo, called on parliament to disband Kenya's Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission. Kilonzo told ministers that the commission had failed to deliver, making little progress since its inception almost a year ago.

The commission was established to uncover the causes of the ethnic violence which shook Kenya to its core after a disputed presidential election in January of 2007. Over 1,000 people were killed in the violence and more than 300,000 were forced to flee from their homes.

The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was expected to bring those responsible for the chaos to justice, but internal controversy has brought its work to a standstill.

At the center of the controversy is the commission's chairman, Bethuel Kiplagat. The former Kenyan ambassador has faced nationwide calls for his resignation over the past month due to criminal allegations leveled against him. Among the questions surrounding the chairman are his role in the assassination of Kenyan Foreign Minister Robert Ouko in 1990 and his acquisition of government land while serving the previous administration.

Kiplagat has maintained his innocence, but his refusal to step down ignited further controversy. In March, the commission's deputy chairman, Betty Muringi, resigned in protest of Kiplagat's tenure and this week, the commissioners requested that a tribunal be established to investigate the allegations against their chairman.

But despite its failures, some in Kenya believe that the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission can still fulfill its mandate. The Chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Florence Simbiri-Jaoko, says that the commission, instead of being disbanded, should replace its members and continue its work.

"The commissioners, if they voluntarily resign, I think that would be a better process than disbanding because that is the wrong precedent," he said. "I think the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission was going to be a very useful process for looking at historical injustices, making recommendations on what can be done in the long term and, especially, preventative measures. But also just developing a culture of tolerance in Kenya."

But whether or not the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission is allowed to continue, the international community has already taken matters into their own hands.

In light of the commission's failures, the International Criminal Court has given its prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, permission to investigate crimes against humanity committed in the wake of the election. Moreno Ocampo said earlier this month that he will investigate those most responsible for the violence and had a list of 20 prominent Kenyan businessmen and politicians on which he would focus.

His team has already begun gathering evidence, and Moreno Ocampo is expected to arrive in Kenya next month.