Gross human rights violations persist despite state apologies

A woman looking at the photos that were exhibited during a past Heal The Nation Exhibition organised by Boniface Mwangi In the streets of Nairobi. [Picture: Carolyne Oyugi]
A woman looking at the photos that were exhibited during a past Heal The Nation Exhibition organised by Boniface Mwangi In the streets of Nairobi. [Picture: Carolyne Oyugi]

Victims of the 2007-2008 Post Elections Violence had no reason to celebrate when the rest of the world marked the International Day of Victims of Gross Human Rights Violation, on March 24.

Thousands of PEV victims spread across the country were not be alone as they were joined by other silent victims, especially survivors of gender based violence and other human rights violations like torture.

Among them are victims of sexual gender based violence (SGBV) who were raped, defiled and sodomised or beaten with some having their limbs chopped off during the worst violence in Kenya’s  history who are still waiting for justice and reparation.

Precedence

A year ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in his State of the Nation address from the Kenya National Assembly made a historic apology on behalf of his Government and predecessors, the late Jomo Kenyatta, retired presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki.

Said Kenyatta: “To move forward as a nation, I stand before you today on my own behalf, that of my government and all past governments, to offer the most sincere apology of the Government of the Republic of Kenya to all our compatriots for all past wrongs.”

The announcement was well received in the august House and outside by leaders from across the political divide, civil society organisations and ordinary Kenyans.

In the same breathe, the head of State also announced that notwithstanding the recommendation of the Truth and Justice Commission Report, he had also instructed the Treasury to establish a KSh10 billion fund over the next three years to be used for restorative justice.

That second announcement was also very well received by leaders and the public, but one year later there is little to show for it.

Said Kenyatta at the time: “This will provide a measure of relief and will underscore my Government’s goodwill. I have also established a state department in marginalized and at-risk regions and populations of our country.”

He noted then: “It is my hope that these measures will go some way to bring the nation together, as we reach for prosperity and security that is our common promise.”

During the post-election violence following one of the hottest contested presidential elections, over 1,300 men, women and children were killed and another more than 300,000 people were displaced especially in the Rift Valley region, although other parts of the count were equally affected.

Charge sheet

Six suspects were charged at the International Criminal Court at The Hague soon thereafter but four were acquitted while two are still facing the charges. These are Deputy President William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang.

In his State of the Union address last year Kenyatta said: “Fellow Kenyans, the time has come to bring closure to this painful past. The time has come to allow ourselves the full benefit of a cohesive, unified and confident Kenya, as we claim our nation.”

Since then, Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga has also gone on record to apologise to Kenyans on behalf of the Judiciary. Mutunga would later describe the country as a “bandit economy”.

However, when addressing a media breakfast meeting at Pan-Afric Hotel in Nairobi, Christopher Gitari, CEO of International Centre for Transitional Justice, lamented that   not much progress has been made in addressing issues around victims of PEV and gross human rights violations.

The meeting was held under the theme Dialogue and Analysis of Publication: The Police Vetting Process and Public Apologies as a Form of Reparations.

Gitari cited the reforms in the police service as a an example where the Constitution had given the Kenya Police Oversight Authority teeth to manage the security forces, but the Executive arm of government was clawing it back through the Legislature.

Last year, about 130 PEV victims petitioned Parliament to debate and implement the TJRC report, especially on reparation among others but to date nothing has been done and the report is seated somewhere gathering dust.

Said Gitari: “Public institutions like the police that perpetuate human rights violations while serving repressive regimes must be transformed for a culture of the rule of law and democracy to take root in the society.”

Gitari said that through such reforms, public institutions play a critical role in preventing cycles of violence and promoting democracy and sustainable peace in the nation.

He noted that the desired effect and essentially the prime objective of the ongoing police vetting process are to restore public confidence in the National Police Service.

However, Gitari wondered whether the ongoing police vetting process so far was achieving its objectives of restoring public confidence in the police service saying it has been faced with many challenges.

Way forward

As a way forward, ICTJ has recently published two papers: ‘The National Police Service Vetting Process Explained: Enhancing Accountability and Reform of the Kenya National Police Service’ and ‘More Than Words: Apologies As A Form of Reparations.’

According to Gitari, they will be presenting the two papers in the form of dialogue targeting media practitioners.

Said Gitari: “The dialogue will thus be useful in discussing the papers in depth and having the participants interact with the material to enrich their knowledge on transitional justice and having them actively engage with the TJRC agenda in Kenya and especially the ongoing police vetting process and giving views on the next steps that should be followed after the   President’s apology one year ago.”

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