Tuesday, June 3, 2008

No reconciliation possible without release of protesters

Publication Date: 6/3/2008

FEW ITEMS OF POLITICAL discourse in post-crisis Kenya have been as misunderstood, and as deliberately distorted, as the issue of protesting youths who have been incarcerated for five months now in Rift Valley, Nairobi and western Kenya.

A number of leaders of various hues are demanding that there be no impunity with regard to the terrible violence that swept our nation after the disputed presidential election results were announced at the end of December.

Astoundingly, these anti-impunity leaders are referring only to youths whose only “crime” was staging lawful protests in their anger over the ECK’s criminal conduct of the elections.
These leaders have never once talked of there being no impunity for the security forces responsible for more than half of the killings.

Equally astoundingly, the only police officer charged is the one in Kisumu, whose wanton killing of two youths was captured on television cameras.

POLICE CULPABILITY IS CLEARLY indicated since most killings resulted from gunshot wounds, as pointed out by the highly respected Independent Medico-Legal Unit (Imlu).

And let us also remember that the police actions, initiated at the highest level of its command, were done at the behest of the State, which then was under the control of a contending political party in the election.

The vast majority of youths who are in custody killed or raped no one. They were defending democracy and electoral justice in the only manner available to them: demonstrations which enjoy the protection of our Constitution.

The protests turned bloody primarily because of a grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by security agents, who had been given orders to shoot to kill.

Yes, there were killings, rapes and violent robbery by enraged citizens. Such individuals must face the law, but surely a Police Force which was responsible for many of the deaths cannot be trusted to be the investigator and prosecutor for these crimes. The police are trying to cover up their own killings by laying the blame on the innocents.

It is because of the serious doubts over the impartiality of the police and our judicial system that the National Accord established a commission, now headed by Mr Justice Philip Waki, to look into the entire spectrum of violence that swept the nation.

Surely, trying to rush through police investigations violates the Accord and also gives them the opportunity to fix the evidence. The police themselves will be actually in the dock in front of the Waki Commission.

Indeed, there are clear instances whereby youths have been or are facing trumped-up charges of robbery with violence, which is a non-bailable offence, in order to punish them.

And in instances where bail is applicable, it is set at such an exorbitant amount that the youths are unable to go home to their families.

In addition, thousands of the arrested protesters have still not been charged, which is a violation of the rule of law, since charges need to be brought within two weeks of arrest, at most. These demonstrations took place nationwide, but the police used maximum force in the Rift Valley, western Kenya and selected parts of Nairobi in order to portray the violence as coming from specific ethnic groups.

Indeed, this use of brutal force was pre-planned by stationing large police contingents in these areas, as it was known that protests would erupt when the fraudulent election results were announced.

These police officers who killed innocent Kenyans in Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley and the Coast looked the other way as ODM supporters were hacked to death or burnt in their homes in Naivasha, Nakuru, Nairobi and Central Province.

WE IN ODM HAVE DEMANDED THE truth in the election dispute and justice for all Kenyans who were killed, attacked or affected in whatever manner by neighbours or the police, which acted as an armed wing of PNU.

The only logical way to proceed is to let the Waki Commission on post-election violence proceed with its work without interference by the police. Otherwise this Commission is entirely redundant, and its work will be only for the history books.

The national reconciliation, as well as the headway we urgently need to make in our common coalition programmes, cannot take place when there is so much legitimate anger over these wrongly incarcerated youths.

The Right Honourable Raila Odinga is Kenya’s Prime Minister.