Six years after Oscar Foundation murders, Kenya is a “place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity”

The fifth six anniversary of the “gangland style” execution of Oscar Foundation head Oscar Kingara and his associate John Paul Oulu in their car near State House in Nairobi passed largely unremarked last week, but deserves to be remembered.  From the New York Times report the next day:

“The United States is gravely concerned and urges the Kenyan government to launch an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation into this crime,” the American ambassador to Kenya, Michael E. Ranneberger, said in a statement on Friday. It urged the authorities to “prevent Kenya from becoming a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.” (emphasis added)

The slain men, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, had been driving to a meeting of human rights activists when unidentified assailants opened fire. No arrests have been reported.

Last month, the two activists met with Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and provided him with “testimony on the issue of police killings in Nairobi and Central Province,” Mr. Alston said in a statement issued in New York on Thursday.

“It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi,” Mr. Alston said.

Mr. Alston visited Kenya last month and said in a previous statement that killings by the police were “systematic, widespread and carefully planned.”

. . . .

Unfortunately, in these five six years nothing has been done about the murders, and no action was taken on the underlying issue of widespread extrajudicial killings by the police. Kenya in fact proved itself to be a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity. The government spokesman who made inflammatory (and baseless according to the embassy) attacks on the victims just before the killings is now a governor, and the Attorney General who stood out as an impediment to prosecuting extrajudicial killing (and was banned from travel to the U.S.) is a Senator. (See also the State Department’s Kenya Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2013)

Below is the March 19, 2009 statement to the Congressional Record by Senator Russ Feingold who is now the President’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the DRC, courtesy of the Mars Group:

Mr. President, two human rights defenders, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, were murdered in the streets of Nairobi, Kenya two weeks ago. I was deeply saddened to learn of these murders and join the call of U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger for an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation of this crime. At the same time, we cannot view these murders simply in isolation; these murders are part of a continuing pattern of extrajudicial killings with impunity in Kenya. The slain activists were outspoken on the participation of Kenya’s police in such killings and the continuing problem of corruption throughout Kenya’s security sector. If these and other underlying rule of law problems are not addressed, there is a very real potential for political instability and armed conflict to return to Kenya.

In December 2007, Kenya made international news headlines as violence erupted after its general elections. Over 1,000 people were killed, and the international community, under the leadership of Kofi Annan, rallied to broker a power-sharing agreement and stabilize the government. In the immediate term, this initiative stopped the violence from worsening and has since been hailed as an example of successful conflict resolution. But as too often happens, once the agreement was signed and the immediate threats receded, diplomatic engagement was scaled down. Now over a year later, while the power-sharing agreement remains intact, the fundamental problems that led to the violence in December 2007 remain unchanged. In some cases, they have even become worse.

Mr. President, last October, the independent Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence, known as the Waki Commission, issued its final report. The Commission called for the Kenyan government to establish a Special Tribunal to seek accountability for persons bearing the greatest responsibility for the violence after the elections. It also recommended immediate and comprehensive reform of Kenya’s police service. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, echoed that recommendation in his report, which was released last month. Alston found the police had been widely involved in the post-election violence and continue to carry out carefully planned extrajudicial killings. The Special Rapporteur also identified systematic shortcomings and the need for reform in the judiciary and Office of the Attorney General.

Despite these official reports, there has been very little action toward implementing these recommendations. The Kenyan government has not taken steps to establish the Special Tribunal. The Police Commissioner and Attorney General, both heavily implicated in these problems, remain in their respective posts. Meanwhile, reported scandals involving maize and oil imports suggest that public corruption in Kenya remains pervasive and may be getting worse.

This is generating increased public resentment that can easily be exploited by armed militias and turn violent. I am especially worried about these heightened hostilities given the tensions expected to surround Kenya’s census, which is scheduled for later this year and the potential for them to flow over into next year’s constitutional referendum, and ultimately the 2012 general elections.

Mr. President, there is a lot of talk these days about conflict prevention. I see no greater opportunity for conflict prevention in Africa right now than in Kenya. The international community needs to coordinate its efforts to ensure the Kenyan government addresses these fundamental problems of governance and rule of law. The United States has a key role to play in this regard, especially given our longstanding and historic partnership with Kenya. To that end, I was pleased that FBI Director Robert Mueller visited Kenya two weeks ago and delivered a very clear message: “Public corruption should be a priority for all investigation and prosecution agencies in the country.” We need to consistently reiterate that message and we need to back it up with concrete actions that both support reform and sanction individuals found guilty of kleptocracy.

In the months ahead, Kenya must get more attention from our senior government officials. I hope the Obama administration’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs will be ready to give it that attention and develop an effective strategy for preventing conflict there. Allowing the status quo to persist will be far more costly in the long run. Kenya is an extremely important country for the stability of the Horn of Africa and East Africa; it is a country of great talent and entrepreneurship, rich history and diversity. With all those strengths, a promising and peaceful future is possible for Kenya and we must help its people to attain it.

2 thoughts on “Six years after Oscar Foundation murders, Kenya is a “place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity”

    • Perhaps when I retire I can take time to publish a calendar with the anniversaries of the most major of Kenya’s “unsolved” political murders.

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