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How Kenya turned Africa against Alston

By | June 20th 2009 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Gakuu Mathenge

Smarting from the adoption of the report on extrajudicial killings by the UN, the Government has responded with a diplomatic assault aimed at punishing UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston.

The PNU wing of the Government instigated a diplomatic campaign in Geneva. It mobilised African and developing countries to line up their delegations behind Kenya’s displeasure with Prof Alston, a source who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter told The Standard on Saturday.

The source said on June 3, a one-page plea was faxed to some African capitals to appeal for support for Kenya’s position on Alston’s report. But the source, who was also in Geneva, added: "The appeal did not specify Kenya’s position. The delegation was split and had not indicated a common ground. To avoid an embarrassing situation of choosing to support ODM or PNU positions, many African delegations kept off the session when Saitoti took the floor."

The African Group was backed by the Non-Aligned Movement, comprising Asia and Latin American countries.

Prof Alston at a press conference in Gigiri, Nairobi, in April. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

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In his speech at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo accused Alston of seeking to "destabilise Kenya by trying to divide the coalition Government." He claimed that the UN official’s report was biased.

On the day the groups passed the resolution for special investigators to stick to their mandate, a report on the Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua’s website read: "The United Nations Humans Rights Council has passed a very powerful resolution, which in effect supports the African Group against the conduct of Prof Philip Alston. This resolution is a step for possible disciplinary action."

But speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, Prime Minister Raila Odinga opposed the African Group’s move. He said it is a mistake if the continent is perceived to support or condone impunity.

"No other region has suffered form abuses like Africa has in recent time. That is why Africa must lead the global struggle against impunity," Raila said.

On June 3, Alston tabled findings of his investigations before the HRC. The report makes damning recommendations against the police, the Attorney-General and the Judiciary.

Diplomatic Push

Alston called for the sacking of Police Commissioner Hussein Ali for allegedly presiding over the post election violence killings and the resignation of AG Amos Wako for not stopping or prosecuting those behind the crimes.

The diplomatic push comes at a time when the HRC is reviewing terms of office of some rapporteurs, including Alston, at the end of the month. The consequence could be that Alston’s term may not be renewed.

The group accuses him of breaching HRC Code of Conduct. The code Alston is accused to have flouted prohibits methods that endanger or have the potential to damage investigators’ personal and professional integrity, and ultimately their credibility and that of the HRC’s work.

The African Group raised three issues: One, that when he presented the Kenyan report, he admitted he did not prepare the report himself, but relied on a Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report.

Two, that during his tour of Kenya, he addressed the media before presenting his report to the Government for a response and HRC as is required.

Three, that Alston’s call for the removal of constitutional officials contravened the HRC code of conduct.

Rules for poor countries

They also accuse special investigators of doing their work as if there were different rules for poor countries and the rest of the world, a member of the Kenyan technical delegation said.

Alston visited Kenya in February to investigate complaints of human rights abuses by State security agencies. His findings and recommendations split the Grand Coalition Government down the middle, with PNU — which has the Internal Security, Judiciary, Justice and AG dockets — fighting Alston and discrediting his report.

But ODM dissociated itself from the anti-Alston campaign, embraced the report and called for investigations.

The party announced that it would send a parallel delegation to Geneva to present its version of things, arguing that the PNU position was not the Grand Coalition Government’s.

To forestall an ugly scene in Geneva, the PNU delegation of Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo and Wako was expanded to include ODM’s James Orengo and Amason Kingi.

But when the Government realised that its first line of attack — discrediting Alston’s report — was doomed, a second front was devised.

Saitoti presented a revised version of what the Government had submitted to the HRC, climbing down from discrediting Alston’s report and instead embracing it and promising to implement it.

Nevertheless, the anti-Alston wing of the Kenyan delegation was not through with him. The Non-Aligned Movement (African, Latin American and some Asian countries) teamed up with African delegations and adopted Kenya’s gripe with Alston: That he had over-stepped his mandate by calling for the sacking of key office holders, Ali and Wako.

The special investigator was also accused of unprofessional conduct for releasing his findings to the media before sharing them with the Government. The movement resolved to censure Alston and demand that his three-year mandate — which elapses this month — should not be renewed.

On Monday, they succeeded in pushing the HRC to pass a resolution upholding the positions against Alston. The resolution received overwhelming support because it went down well with big time suspects of and targets of past human rights abuse investigations, among them US, Russia and China.

But Alston defended himself: "My decision to call for the dismissal of the Police Commissioner and to suggest that the Attorney-General might wish to resign after many years in office reflects my conclusion that the two officials are the key individuals with direct responsibility for the current state of affairs."

The code of conduct that Alston is accused of flouting prohibits actions or methods that endanger or have the potential to damage their personal and professional integrity, and ultimately their credibility and that of the UN Human Rights Commission’s work.

"These procedures seek to take action when issues are raised regarding how mandate-holders (special investigators) have met agreed upon standards in the performance of their duties…" says annex 3 of the final report on the matter raised by the anti-Alston Group on Thursday.


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