x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Murders reopen Kenya's wounds

Execution-style killing of two Kenyan human rights activists draws strong condemnation from the international community.

Kenyan riot police walk into clouds of tear gas during running battles with students.
Kenyan riot police walk into clouds of tear gas during running battles with students.

NAIROBI // The execution-style killing of two Kenyan human rights activists has drawn strong condemnation from the international community and from Kenyans. The slayings have reopened wounds from last year's ethnic clashes and exposed deep flaws in the country's coalition government. Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu were driving to a meeting of human rights organisations on Thursday evening when their white Mercedes-Benz was ambushed in traffic. Witnesses said the unidentified assailants, wearing dark suits and driving a black vehicle, blocked Kingara's car and shot him and Oulu at close range. Kenyan human rights groups said they hold the government responsible for the killings. The police denied involvement in the deaths. Kingara, the founder of the Oscar Foundation and a campaigner against police brutality in Kenya, met last month a United Nations official who was investigating extrajudicial killings by police. Mr Oulu was the foundation's director of communications and advocacy. Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, recently published a report accusing the police of operating death squads and recommending the sacking of the police commissioner and the attorney general. He called for the government to investigate last week's deaths. "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. "There is an especially strong onus on the Kenyan government to arrange for an independent investigation into these killings given the circumstances surrounding them." International human rights groups also condemned the killing and called for an independent investigation. "The murder of two activists long critical of police abuses demands an inquiry that is not under the control of the police," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "An independent inquiry is the only way to reach the truth and ensure justice for this horrible crime." Amnesty International called on the authorities to make it clear that attacks against human rights activists "are completely unacceptable and that anyone who carries out such attacks will be brought to justice". Michael Ranneberger, the US ambassador, called the killings, "a serious attack on human rights in Kenya". Students protested against the killings on Friday and clashed with police officers, who used tear gas and live ammunition to break up the demonstration. One student was killed in the protest. Three police officers have been arrested for that killing. The shooting of the two activists came just hours after a government spokesman accused the two men of being a front for the Mungiki, a notorious ethnic gang known for its muscle-for-hire and racketeering. Mungiki members held protests against police violence throughout the day on Thursday and brought transportation networks to a halt across the country. During ethnic violence last year after the disputed presidential election, the Mungiki, from the Kikuyu tribe, killed members of rival tribes. The president, Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, narrowly beat Raila Odinga, who is now prime minister in a coalition government, in an election that was widely seen as flawed. In the past, the Mungiki were used by Kikuyu politicians for protection and to intimidate rivals. But the gang has grown unruly, and many analysts see the killing of the two activists as government retribution against the Mungiki. "The assassinations smack of retribution by a security apparatus that finds itself in the awkward position of Dr Frankenstein: in danger of being overwhelmed by a monster of its own creation," Michela Wrong, a journalist and author of a book on corruption in Kenya, wrote in a commentary piece in The Times. The charge of extrajudicial killings by security forces is the latest setback to the coalition government, which was formed one year ago amid high hopes but has recently been plagued by corruption and scandals. The coalition brought together rival political parties and ended the ethnic-based post-election violence. But the government has been criticised for failing to agree on a system to try the high-level politicians accused of orchestrating the violence. The government leaders have also been accused of lining their pockets as millions of Kenyans face food shortages. Mr Kibaki pulled out of a reconciliation meeting with Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, and rival politicians scheduled for this month. More bickering is expected this year as politicians draft a new constitution. A nine-member committee began work on a new constitution last week that will be put to voters in 2010. Mr Odinga, the prime minister, said the activists' killings indicated the coalition government was unravelling and called on politicians to work together. "I fear that we are flirting with lawlessness in the name of keeping law and order," he said. "In the process, we are hurtling towards failure as a state." mbrown@thenational.ae