Uncovering Police Killings in Kenya

Even coming from a UN official whose job was to investigate extrajudicial killings, this is harsh:

“I have received overwhelming testimony that there exists in Kenya a systematic, widespread and well-planned strategy to execute individuals, carried out by the police,” he said of the alleged killing of some 500 suspected Mungiki members.

“Kenyan police are a law unto themselves. They kill often, with impunity,” he said.

This was from the testimony of Philip Alston, the UN “rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions” reporting after a fact-finding mission on a problem that should come as a surprise to no one familiar with the shocking violence in the country after the elections of late 2007. The steady hum of killings has evidently continued, albeit on a smaller scale, and with much less media attention.

One of the problems of the otherwise laudable settlement that Kofi Annan brokered in early 2008 was that, instead of resolving much of Kenya’s long-standing corruption, it simply tried to diffuse the problem by creating a bloated cabinet. The same offenders remain, therefore, and the incentives for patronage have perhaps only grown. A prime target of Alston’s report was the Attorney General, a man named Amos Wako who has been in his position for 17 years and who prompted Alston to remark “Mr. Wako is the embodiment in Kenya of the phenomenon of impunity.”

Unfortunately, the same culture of corruption and impunity that has created the problem of Kenya’s extrajudicial killings is likely to create resistance to implementing Alston’s recommendations. The Kenyan government has predictably rejected the report, claiming that it violates the country’s sovereign prerogatives. The stridency of Alston’s testimony, though, has caused a stir, so he seems to be using his bully pulpit well.

(image of Kenyans protesting in Minnesota in January 2008, from flickr user Wa-J under a Creative Commons license)