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UN Probes Extrajudicial Killings In Kenya

A United Nations official is in Kenya to investigate reports of unlawful executions. Human rights groups in the country have accused the police force, as well as the military, of numerous extrajudicial killings in the past two years, many in response to violence that followed the country's 2007 elections, or in pursuit of armed groups.

On Monday, at the start of a ten-day visit, Phillip Alston, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings met with Kenya's police commissioner and with human rights activists.

Alston, an Australian law professor at New York University, is in the country to investigate reports of killings by the police and the military in quelling the unrest that followed disputed elections in December 2007, and in pursuit of armed groups in the country, including the Mungiki criminal gang, active in Nairobi and Central Kenya, and the Sabaot Land Defense Force, a militia in western Kenya.

"My mandate is to look at any unlawful killings that take place," he said. "Unlawful killings defined as the military or the police in particular, but also any killings that are carried out by others, by private actors but that are not adequately investigated, prosecuted and punished by the state."

Human rights groups, including the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights have documented numerous cases of disappearances, many related to a police campaign against the Mungiki, a gang that carried out a wave of violent attacks in 2007, and which was also involved in post-election clashes last year. The commission says many of those who have disappeared were last reported seen in police custody.

A police spokesman has admitted that some 3,000 disappearances have been reported, but the police have denied wrongdoing. Police have admitted to killing gangsters in shootouts, saying that such actions have broad public support in a country long plagued by violent crime.

A report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights also suggested that of the more than 1,000 people killed in post-election clashes from December 2007 to February 2008, hundreds may have been killed by police fire.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has threatened strict punishment for officers guilty of extrajudicial killings. He has complained that many of his supporters were targeted by police during protests that followed the disputed presidential election.

Speaking to the KTN television station, the head of the human rights commission, Florence Jaoko, said unlawful killings sustain a 'culture of impunity.'

"Our argument has been that it is the government's responsibility to equip the police with all the required resources because you cannot have a shortcut to investigations," said Jaoko. "Execution cannot be an answer, because then you don't have the rule of law."

Alston said he will present his findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"There will then be a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, an official U.N. report that will provide an opportunity for dialogue with the government of Kenya," he said. "And I very much hope that my report will be a focus of further discussions both within Kenya and within the international community."

Alston's visit follows the rejection by Kenya's parliament last week of an effort to create a tribunal to try those suspected of organizing attacks following the 2007 elections. Some lawmakers have called for a U.N. tribunal to be set up in Kenya, similar to the special court in Sierra Leone, saying a local tribunal would be susceptible to political manipulation.

On Tuesday, lawyer Cecil Miller was chosen to head an interim electoral commission, which replaced the body that carried out the flawed 2007 vote.