Thursday, July 17, 2008



July 17, 2008
The Standard

Whether in full public view or in secret, brazen killings — nay, executions — of some crime suspects by police officers acting without sanction of any lawful authority continue unabated.

Police Commissioner Maj-Gen Hussein Ali, spokesman Eric Kiraithe and others have insisted the force is not involved in extra-judicial killings.

They regularly argue no laws have been broken by officers who cause deaths in the course of their work, whether of innocents or criminals, whether deliberate or accidental. But every other day there are reports for which no other explanation makes sense and for which none is attempted by Ali and his men.

This continued assault on the rule of law, in the face of repeated protest from the public, the media and human rights organisations, cries for the creation of an independent agency to investigate cases of possible criminality by law enforcement officers.

This week alone, there have been two incidents in which police actions raise serious questions. On July 13 in Kinoo, for instance, Moses Gitau, a known criminal, was shot dead by police alongside one other man. The two, police said, were preparing to commit a robbery in the area.

George Gitau, father of the slain suspect, celebrated the killing. In his recounting the incident, however, he spoke of coming across his subdued son, in pain after having been mauled by a police dog, being interrogated by uniformed officers.

He and other witnesses were then sent away from the scene following which they heard the gunshots that ended the two men’s lives.

Shortcuts to justice

The next day, at the Mayfair Casino in Nairobi, officers from the same police division reportedly shepherded five men, unarmed or disarmed, into a parking lot and shot them dead.

Among the five were Zedekiah Imbote and Paul Wachira, employees of two firms contracted to provide services to the hotel.

The five, police claimed, were part of a seven-man gang planning a robbery. In both instances, there will be no public reviews.

Six other men were shot dead in other parts of the country, four of them “suspected muggers” arrested in Kayole. The police are under no obligation to explain any of the shootings to anyone.

This, in our considered opinion, gives rogue officers licence to seek shortcuts to ‘justice’ that are untenable unless we are courting the death of rule of law and its replacement by a trigger-happy roadside ‘judiciary’.

In nations where law enforcement agencies have an oversight body, all officer-involved shootings are investigated independently, as a matter of policy. The use of deadly force is scrutinised to the highest degree to determine if it was justified. This ensures fatal shootings by police are either accidental or justified, never deliberate or criminal.

This very level of probity was promised to us when Ali took over in April 2004, following an overhaul of the force’s top officers in response to human rights violations and corruption.

The ‘Kenya Police Service Strategic Plan 2003–2007’, which was presented by the Police High Command at a validation workshop in March 2004, recognised that “unaccountability, impunity and corruption were endemic in the force”. It bound the police to engage in “a reform process adhering to the rule of law and upholding human rights”.

Oversight board

One concrete recommendation was the establishment of a Police Oversight Board “with powers to investigate and take action on complaints of misconduct and human rights abuses”. Pray tell, why are we still making arguments for this oversight function midway through 2008?

Given the shootings of the last week, the disappearances of crime suspects, the accusations arising from the post-election period and crackdowns like that on Mungiki in June last year, there is a need for an independent body to look into police conduct.

The Minister for Internal Security should fast-track plans for an oversight body for the police. We are not prepared to accept the deaths of innocents as the price for a safer nation.