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We must speak up against the evil that is extra-judicial killings

By Tania Ngima | July 5th 2016

I recently watched an investigative documentary that asserted statistically, Kenyans are five times more likely to be shot by a law enforcement officer than a criminal.

This confirms the other anecdote I have heard in various versions; that many Kenyans would rather run into thugs and muggers than into policemen.

This past week brought sharp focus to extra-judicial killings. The discovery of the bodies of a human rights lawyer, his client and their taxi driver left us in collective shock. I am a strong believer in the sanctity of human life, wherever those lives hail from, their last names or what they do for a living.

That said, in this particular case our shock is no doubt compounded by the fact that the killings were conducted with such impunity and brazenness.

A couple of days after the bodies were discovered, Kenya’s Inspector General of Police did come out to identify the lead suspects as members of the police force, so labelling these killings as extra-judicial is not conjecture.

However, what causes discomfort and angst in equal proportions is the public perception that it took significant outcry by local and international institutions in order for these investigations to be taken seriously.

So, what hope is there for the other Kenyans who do not have clout by virtue of the institutions they are connected to, their last names or any of the other perceived reasons that we use to determine relevance or the extent to which a citizen is equal?
There are not many pieces I prevaricate over.

This week, it would have been so much easier to write about retrogressive tax systems, or the pain we feel while filing tax returns that we cannot show value or service for.

In fact, I was halfway through that column before I abandoned it. There are few subjects that are as unnerving or emotive as the loss of human lives.

My reasons for almost not writing this column are rooted in part discomfort and part apprehension. Because, just this week, we have seen what happens when you bring attention to the misdeeds of the institutions to which we entrust our personal safety, our freedom and our lives to.

There is a quote that I like to refer to when I’m mired in indecision or when I am conflicted, especially regarding conversations that could potentially put me in undesirable cross-hairs.

But this is not just about me, it is about all of us who are fortunate enough to have access to platforms where we can influence and inspire, whether they are digital or otherwise, and especially if they touch demographics and communities directly.

When in doubt, when grappling with putting your truth out into the world especially if your hesitation is coming from a place of fear, remember that the cost of apathy far outweighs the risk of speaking up.

Pick an atrocity, any atrocity in the history of mankind. The tipping point that led to its end began in a few people starting a revolution, but the revolution begins with us speaking up against injustices.

Martin Niemoller, a prominent pastor who was first an ally, then a foe of Adolf Hitler said (excerpt) ‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist... Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me’.

Extra-judicial killings are not a new phenomenon in the country. In fact, various reports, predictably rejected by their target institutions, have detailed instances of crimes against humanity whose hallmark is denying victims of due process.
In 2008, the Government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) published a report that identified law enforcers as responsible for the killings and disappearance of more than 50 young men.

The Waki Commission is also alleged to have stated that of the 1,500 lives lost in the post-election violence, law enforcement officers were responsible for 30 per cent of them.

In 2013, it was alleged that over 20 people disappeared as various units intensified the crackdown on alleged terror suspects, with many more getting caught up in profiling and targeting. And the body count has been growing continuously.

I do not think there is any Kenyan who would not support whichever means the government was to use if we were guaranteed that it would put a complete stop to terrorism and crime.

But in terms of unlawful killings where due process is lacking, the lines turn blurry very easily.
What we are now left grappling with is the lack of restraint we are seeing regarding the use of undue force, abduction, shooting and killing with impunity even on nonexistent evidence.

How do we now believe that any shootings are indeed inevitability of crime and not from a premeditated standpoint?

And with this level of mistrust, where are Kenyan citizens left to turn when there is genuine need for protection?

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