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.

Continue reading

Covering Nairobi’s Police Executions, Media Freedom and Internet Access

Expressions Today, “East Africa’s Independent Media Review”, in its weekly “The Bulletin” feature,  takes a look at last week’s coverage of public extra-judicial executions by the police on Langata Road in Nairobi:

And finally, the unnamed citizen who pictured Flying Squad officers executing suspected thugs who had surrendered in full view of members of the public has done citizen journalism proud. When Nation got hold of the shocking pictures, the paper ran them on the Front Page and did a strong-worded editorial about the utter evil of extra-judicial killings.

It was a story that shook the country. At least Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said the concerned officers had been interdicted and will be prosecuted. But at the press conference, why didn’t reporters press Saitoti about the names? Doesn’t the public have the right to know their names, now that they have been placed under investigation (by the same Police Service, by the way)?

(Okay. Many Kenyans, terribly frustrated by violent crime, think suspects should be executed on sight. No. That is not the rule of law. Instead, the Kenya Police Service should have thoroughly professional officers who are well equipped and motivated and who can win public trust and collaboration to curb crime.)

Without those pictures, we would most likely never have known the truth about what had happened on Lang’ata Road. Except for Nation, all other media houses basically reported what the police said about the incident. And it was plain lies.

Here’s what The Star carried: “The three were part of a gang of six and they were killed in a fierce shoot-out with police, according to Lang’ata police chief Augustine Kimantiria. There was no fierce shoot-out.

Thumbs up to citizen journalism!

“Cry Me an Onion” looks at the state of press freedom and the Kenyan newspapers –not as free as some say he concludes.

Concerning three year prison term for Somaliland journalist on charges of libeling the Somaliland Chief of Police and head of Somaliland Electric Agency:

“This sentence has all the hallmarks of summary and punitive justice,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The court should have first established whether or not anyone was defamed and, if they were, a more measured and just penalty should have been imposed. Imprisonment is clearly disproportionate for defamation. We urge the courts to reverse this decision on appeal.”

The East African reports on a new study on internet access in the region:

According to a study conducted by TNS Research International in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu from September to November 2010, out of a population of 40 million, about four million (10 per cent) have access to the Internet.

The study, titled “Digital Life” and conducted to establish people’s online behaviour and activities, found that in Uganda, out of a population of 33 million, about 3.3 million (10 percent) have a access to the Internet while Tanzania comes last — out of a population of 42 million, only 672,000 people (1.6 per cent) have had an online experience.

The study found that based on an adult sample in each of the covered EAC towns, an average of 45 per cent of the urban population have used the Internet, with Kampala having the highest number at 53 per cent; Arusha and Nairobi at 49 per cent; Mombasa at 42 per cent while Dar es Salaam has the least number of people using the Internet at 31 per cent.

The TNS study revealed that in Kenya, mobile devices and Internet cafes are the primary points of access.

The results of the study show that 60 per cent of Kenyans online use mobile phones as compared with those who use PCs at home (29 per cent); PCs at work (33 per cent); and cyber cafes (41 per cent), thereby indicating high potential for growth in the mobile Internet business in Kenya.

The Government of Kenya has announced, according to Business Daily, a revised lending program to support “digital centres” to increase internet access (referencing higher starting figures than what the TNS study found):

The government has released Sh320 million for set up of digital centres in Kenya, a move aimed at creating new business opportunities and boost Internet access in rural areas.

Investors seeking loans will be required to submit a business plan and have until February 25 to apply for the funds.

The money will be disbursed through Family Bank. An investor can borrow from Sh820,000 to Sh3.3 million repayable with an annual interest rate of 11.5 per cent in three years.

Funding glitch

Information permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo told investors to apply for the loans through Family Bank.

“Some people have been seeking favours from the MPs with regard to the loans, but this is not going to work since the procedure is that one must go through the bank.”

This comes weeks after a funding glitch hit the model digital centres, threatening five pilot centres started three years ago in Malindi, Meru, Kangundo, Garissa and Mukuru slums in Nairobi.

Nairobi and Mombasa account for 90 per cent of the 6.4 million people who have Internet access, according to data from the Communications Commission of Kenya and the creation of the digital villages —Pasha centres — is meant to expand the Net’s reach.

The centres, most of which will be in the rural areas, will be used for Government e-services, Internet access, computer training, vocational lessons, ICT retail, entertainment and gaming, typing and data entry, printing services, copying and scanning.