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Witness protection agency unveiled ahead of Hague hearing

By | August 12th 2011
By | August 12th 2011

By Steve Mkawale

Kenya has launched an independent Witness Protection Agency a few weeks before the confirmation of charges against the ‘Ocampo six’ at The Hague.

The formation of the agency comes at a time when the police have instituted fresh investigations into the post election violence with the aim of reversing the process at the International Criminal Court.

Officers from the Criminal Investigation Department have already grilled suspended cabinet ministers William Ruto and Henry Kosgey over their alleged roles in the post election violence that left some 1,600 Kenyans dead and over half a million uprooted from their homes.

However, the launch of the agency that will fight impunity and restore confidence in the country’s justice system is likely to suffer set back due to financial constraints.

Attorney General Amos Wako, who launched the agency on Friday at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, said the Government has only allocated it Sh200 million in the 2011/2012 Budget, which he described as “a drop in the ocean.”

“I would like to urge the advisory board to immediately start looking for funds from development partners. This is going to be a very expensive exercise,” he said, “We are dealing with major crimes here and the witnesses will be relocated to other countries.

Lawyers of the Ocampo Six arrive at the International Criminal Court. The Government has unveiled an Independent Witness Protection Agency ahead of “Ocampo Six” hearings. [Photo: File/Standard]

Wako regretted that the absence of an independent witness protection agency had seen some serious crimes go unpunished in the country.

He gave an example of the terrorist attack case on the bombing of Paradise Hotel in Kikambala, Mombasa where a key witness refused to testify due to lack of witness protection services.

Wako clarified that the efforts to have the witness protection agency was not as a result of international pressure or the 2007/2008 post election violence but was the initiative of the State Law Office which started way back in 2006.

“We already had a witness protection Act in 2006 but it was tied to the State Law Office and therefore not effective but am happy that we are today launching an independent witness protection agency,” said the AG.

Wako, who will chair the Witness Protect Advisory board until he vacates office, said the agency will operate in secrecy and carry out covert operations of protecting witnesses and therefore the need for adequate funding.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo said the witness protection agency was the second in African after the one in the Republic of South Africa.

“The agency will protect people with important information on drug trafficking, corruption and other serious crimes,” Kilonzo said.

Deputy Chief Justice and Vice President of the Supreme Court Nancy Baraza said the witness protection agency was a key cog in the administration of justice in the country.

“It is an important step towards administration of justice and we are looking forward to see it functional,” she said.

Director of Public Prosecution Keriako Tobiko observed that over the years it has been a challenge to prosecute serious corruption and criminal cases due to lack of an independent witness protection agency.

He said the experience Kenyans had during the post election violence demonstrated the urgency of the witness protection agency that is efficient and effective.

“It took us three years to delink the witness protection programme from the State Law Office but now we have it,” said Tobiko.

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