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UN Official Calls for Dismissal of Kenya's Police Chief, Attorney General

A U.N. representative on extrajudicial killings has called for the dismissal of Kenya's police commissioner and attorney general over the country's failure to address widespread killings by the police. The representative also called for widespread judicial reform and for a commission to try those accused of organizing the violence that followed 2007 elections.

Philip Alston, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings offered a stinging indictment of Kenya's police force at the end of a 10-day trip to the country. He said he found evidence of widespread killings by the police force, including the creation of death squads.

He criticized the lack of cooperation from the police force in his investigation, saying police officials were the only people he spoke to in the country who maintained that the police did not engage in extralegal killings.

"Any serious commitment to ending the impunity that currently reigns in relation to this issue by the police should begin with the immediate dismissal of the police commissioner," Alston said. "In the absence of such a step it will be impossible to conclude that there is a strong commitment at the very top to deal with this problem."

Kenya's police force has frequently been charged with shooting suspected gangsters and criminals. Human rights groups have raised particular concerns about the police response to a wave of killings by the Mungiki gang in 2007 and 2008, suggesting that hundreds of suspected members were in turn killed by police.

A day earlier, the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, with which Alston has been working on his visit, released filmed testimony of a former policeman, who has since been killed. He described over 50 executions by police officers. Alston said he found evidence that the police had set up death squads to target the gang.

The police force has denied involvement in extrajudicial killings. spokesman dismissed the allegations of the human rights commission, suggesting the organization was being investigated for receiving money from the Mungiki gang. The commission, in turn, dismissed those charges, accusing the police of a tendency to attack the character and credibility of its critics, rather than engaging with their charges.

Alston also urged Attorney General Amos Wako to step down, saying the judicial system remains a significant obstacle to providing accountability for public officials. And he urged President Mwai Kibaki to acknowledge that a problem exists.

"The president of Kenya should publicly acknowledge the widespread problem of extrajudicial executions in Kenya and the need for sweeping reforms to the police sector," he said. "His silence to date on this issue is both conspicuous and problematic."

In addition, Alston recommended the creation of a tribunal to try those suspected of organizing attacks that killed over 1,000 people following disputed elections in 2007. The government has been trying to create such a body, but its efforts have been blocked by parliament members, some saying that it would be vulnerable to political manipulation, others, seemingly, to avoid investigation of themselves or their allies.

Alston also backed lawmakers who have called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the post-election attacks, saying Kenya represents an "ideal case for the ICC to urgently take up." He said the international court should focus on the biggest suspects, with a local court handling broader prosecution.

Alston also said the police and military engaged in torture and extrajudicial killings in a campaign against a militia in the Western Mt. Elgon region last year.

Alston's charges are likely to shake up the political debate in Kenya, whose population has grown increasingly disappointed with the government's performance on a range of issues, from tackling corruption to prosecuting the organizers of political violence. But whether the government will choose to act on the recommendations is much less clear.