March 24: International Day for the “Right to the Truth” and the Kenyan TJRC

The International Center for Transitional Justice asks “Can We Handle the Truth?” concerning gross violations of human rights.

The ICTJ has been working in Kenya since 2008, focusing in particular on the effort to deliver a successful post-election Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission process.

Supporting the search for truth, to lead to justice and reconciliation, is obviously a tough job in Kenya, and in the case of the supporting the TJRC made that much harder by the bizarre situation presented by the Kiplagat appointment to the chairmanship. The latest news from this week is Kiplagat’s last minute refusal through his lawyers to honor his summons to testify before the Commission:

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission issued Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat with a summons to appear before the Commission on Thursday 22 March 2012 . On the eve of the Hearing, the Commission received a letter from Ambassador Kiplagat’s lawyers stating that he would not honour the summons.

The Commission is now in the final stage of its Hearings. This stage includes giving a Hearing to persons adversely mentioned by Kenyans through our public Hearings and statement taking. This is an important stage which ensures fairness in compiling an accurate and complete historical record of the truth about the gross violations of human rights in Kenya

The Commission recognises that its ultimate aim is to draw Kenyans towards the path of reconciliation and healing. An overwhelming number of Kenyans have expressed the view that this destination can only be achieved through Truth and Justice

It is in pursuit of the truth that Ambassador Kiplagat, like any other witness, was to appear today before the Commission.
The Commission is surprised and taken aback at the reasons advanced by Ambassador Kiplagat’s lawyers for his non appearance here today. The High Court case clearly did not address the issue of illegal or irregular allocation of land. The High Court case only dealt with the legality of the process followed in appointing the commissioners

We are dismayed that although Ambassador Kiplagat has claimed widely in the media that he has returned to the Commission in a spirit of reconciliation and a desire to further the work of the Commission, he is instead addressing the Commission through his lawyers and refusing to cooperate with the critical national process of truth telling

We note that it is the Commission, and not individual Commissioners, that has summoned Ambassador Kiplagat to testify. The law is clear that the decision to summon a witness lies with the Commission and not with any other person or institution, and that any witness who does not comply is in breach of the law since Commission summonses are backed by the force of law as laid out in Section 7 of theTJR Act

The Commission is unwilling to squander any more valuable time and resources on theatrical tantrums meant to distract it from achieving its mandate. We are cognisant that there are Kenyans in this room who have travelled from Kitale and other distant destinations, in order to attend these proceedings which are adjourned to 29th March when the other witnesses expected today and who sought more time shall be in a position to attend.

We thank you for your patience and your attention.