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Where is the rage over these brazen killings?

By Irungu Houghton | Sep 8th 2018 | 3 min read
Detectives who performed autopsy on the body of the late Sharon Otieno. [Collins Oduor/Standard]

The violence on the doorsteps of the governors of Garissa and Migori sound alarm bells that we can ignore at our peril. Ignore them and we will descend into a quicksand of impunity and criminality.

While investigations are under way and all are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the revelations must cause us to reflect and rage. 

From the testimonies alone, a wide range of human rights violations and public safety breaches have occurred.

Corruption, abduction, torture, murder and attempted murder by contract killers, death in police custody and the intimidation of lawyers, journalists and detectives are among them.

Sharon Otieno and David Mwai lie dead, brutally murdered. Journalist Barack Oduor and former Garissa CEC Idriss Mukhter were luckier having survived attacks on their lives. Sadly, observers of Kenyan history can cite numerous cases of human rights violations linked to the abuse of corruption cover ups, public office and contracted killers.

Lying somewhere on dusty parliamentary shelves are copies of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation report. Littered across hundreds of pages are painful and tragic episodes of unexplained assassinations, forced disappearances and violence against both citizens and leaders. The lack of closure on our past will tempt many to normalise this week’s incidents. There have always been violations, so what is different now?

The pattern of incidents suggests a collapse on many levels. Impunity, assaults on the right to life, media freedom, rule of law, right to legal representation and the criminal justice system.

Victims Mukhtar and Oduor and the families of Otieno and Mwai deserve justice. The suspects too deserve their right to exonerate themselves in court.

Calls for uncompromised investigations and effective oversight need to expand beyond those issued by individual county and national legislators, the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and the Kisumu Journalists Network. The Council of Governors, human rights organisations, Media Council, Kenya Union of Journalists, university student’s associations and policing oversight bodies now need to add their voices.

Online “netizen” conversations need to shift. Too many of us netizens have become too de-sensitised by Hollywood products like “Super Fly”, the popular “Narco” series and our very own popular culture.

Got lost

We fail to see the very real threat these incidents pose to us personally and nationally. In the wake of the brutal killing of Sharon and her unborn child, too many got lost speculating on her personality, morals and even whether she deserved to be killed for allegedly having a relationship with a high ranking politician.

The real important questions didn’t get asked. Who ordered the killings of Sharon and David and why? When will they be arraigned in a court of law? How is it possible that a suspect in a crowded police cell can hang himself when he had already accepted to turn state witness? Should all the State officers implicated in both cases immediately step down to prepare their defense? Who has let Chapter Six become the most disposable piece of tissue in our Constitution?

We must face the hard truth. Devolution is built on the foundation of a promise that the Kenyan people would be safer and better served by government.

If we cannot hold all State officers and all citizens accountable to this vision, we had better abandon this promise, the bill of rights and any pretense of democracy.

Abandoning this vision takes us back to the experiences of other societies like Mexico where at least 32,000 people have been missing since 2006, the criminal justice system is for hire and you are not safe unless you have your own personal militia.

I wish the criminal investigators fair, speedy and conclusive investigations and prosecutions. This country’s future depends on it.

The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter: @irunguhoughton

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