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Public prosecutor hits out at police over bodies in River Yala

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i (L) with the Chief Justice Martha Koome (centre) and the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji during the annual National Conference on Criminal Justice Reforms at Great Rift Valley Lodge in Naivasha yesterday. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

The recent discovery of close to 30 bodies in River Yala has tarnished the image of the criminal justice system, the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji said yesterday.

The DPP also said the discovery of the bodies has eroded public confidence in the security department.

Mr Haji, who spoke during the annual National Conference on Criminal Justice Reforms in Naivasha, said that Kenya’s criminal justice system continues to face accusations of torture, forceful disappearance, and arbitrary arrests and detention.

He told the conference, organised by the National Council on the Administration of Justice, that the incidents are worrying because they have led to great distrust in criminal justice by the public.

In the last few months, close to 30 bodies suspected to be of victims of extra-judicial killings have been discovered in the river with half of them yet to be identified.

Families with missing relatives have been invited to visit Yala mortuary to have their samples collected for DNA tests to match with those from the retrieved bodies.

“The security department is now viewed as the source of insecurity rather than beacons of protection, law, and order,” Mr Haji said. “This perception undermines the rule of law and the River Yala situation is evidence of a criminal justice system that is critically violating the rights of the accused.”

The DPP expressed concerns over the violation of rights through the use of excessive force, torture, unlawful arrests, and detentions without reasonable cause. “Prosecutors play an important role in ensuring everyone gets a fair trial. However, insufficient or arbitrarily acquired evidence will not be used to prefer charges against anyone,” he said.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the government will continue to implement policies as well as institutional and operational reforms to boost the wellness and capacity of the police service.

He commended the National Police Service which he said is working with human rights organisations to resolve cases of extra-judicial killings and incidents where people have disappeared on allegations of police misconduct.

“The training curriculum of police officers, at all levels from recruitment to training, has now incorporated training on human rights,” Dr Matiang’i said.

The government has also provided better housing, social programmes targeting mental health awareness, and medical health insurance for the police, the CS said.

Chief Justice Martha Koome, who was the chief guest, said the Judiciary is committed to the ongoing reforms within the criminal justice system. 

She expressed concern over the period it was taking to wind up criminal cases. “This affects victims and the accused persons. In some EU countries, it takes a maximum of two years to wind up and determine a criminal case and we should borrow a leaf from this,” Justice Koome said.