Murder of Kenyan human rights lawyer an act to intimidate human rights defenders

 In the aftermath of the extra judicial killings of human rights defender Willie Kimani and two others, CIVICUS speaks to Kamau Ngungi, the coordinator of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya about the implications this has for the human rights community. 

1. Can you detail the circumstances that led to the death of human rights defenders Willie Kimani and Josephat Mwenda?

The death of human rights defender Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri is believed to be due to their demand for accountability for the malicious attack on Josephat Mwenda on 10 April 2015. On this date Josephat Mwenda, a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) rider was shot at by an Administration Police Officer without provocation. Josephat reported the shooting incident to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and sought legal assistance from the International Justice Mission (IJM) who immediately took on his case. Since then, Josephat faced persistent threats including malicious prosecution. 

On 13 December, 2015, the same officer responsible for the shooting, in the company of other Administrative Police Officers picked up Josephat from his home. He was taken to Mlolongo Police Station and charged the following day with six traffic offences. These were: (i) riding a motorcycle without a helmet; (ii) riding a motorcycle without a reflective jacket; (iii) carrying excess passengers; (iv)carrying uninsured passengers; (v) riding uninsured motorcycle; and (vi) riding a motorcycle without a driving license. This was despite the fact that Josephat was still undergoing physiotherapy on his arm, and was therefore unable to ride a motorcycle. In addition on 16 February 2016 he was again picked up by two men within the court premises claiming to be officers from the Criminal Investigation Department. The officers alleged that they were investigating a violent robbery case and that Josephat and others were suspects. On 23 June 2016 Willie Kimani, Josephat and Joseph Muiruri were abducted as they left the Mavoko Law Courts where Willie had represented Josephat in the matter of the traffic offences. Their bodies were later discovered on 1 July 2016.

2. What effect will Willie Kimani’s death have on the work of human rights defenders?

The death of Willie was meant to be an act of intimidation by the police against human rights defenders and lawyers working on human rights issues. However, this has had a contrary effect. The incident led to the formation of a collective of advocates, human rights defenders, Taxi drivers associations and the Boda Boda associations who are demanding for accountability, not only for the execution of Willie, Josephat and Joseph but for the ongoing trend of summary executions by the security agencies in Kenya. 

3. Tell us about #StopExtrajudicialKillings campaign and what it seeks to achieve?

The execution and subsequent discovery of the bodies of Willie, Josephat and Joseph on 1 July 2016 triggered a nationwide campaign to #StopExtrajudicialKillings. The campaign was spearheaded by CSOs in Kenya, under the leadership of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya (NCHRD-K), to demand for justice for victims and families of victims of enforced disappearances and extra judicial executions. The social and mainstream media campaign reached the regional and international community who put out statements condemning the summary execution of the three and stood in solidarity with CSOs and human rights defenders in Kenya. The campaign included street action in the form of peaceful marches by CSOs, advocates, taxi drivers associations and Boba Boda riders association on 4 July 2016 and by advocates on 6 July. CSOs read a statement with a list of demands and during their procession stopped at the office of the President and the office of the Inspector General of Police where petitions with a set of demands were presented. The campaign which commenced in early July shall continue as Kenyans demand the State to ensure justice for victims and their families. 

4. What has been the response of the Kenyan government to calls for justice for Willie Kimani and the two others?

The office of the Inspector General of Police, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Independent Policing Oversight Authority have all committed to a credible investigation into the killing of the three gentlemen. 

5. Please describe the general environment in which human rights defenders generally operate in Kenya?

Despite a new constitutional dispensation in 2010, which ensures fundamental rights and freedoms for all, the environment for human rights defenders in Kenya has been steadily shrinking. Since 2013, Kenya has witnessed the direct targeting of CSOs who have monitored, documented and demanded justice for victims of extra-judicial executions and enforced disappearances in the Coast. 

For example human rights organisations MUHURI and HAKI Africa who were accused of having links to terrorist groups, were listed as specified entities and their bank accounts subsequently frozen for eight months in 2015. There has also been attempts to enact restrictive legislation to limit CSOs for instance the Security Laws Amendment Bill of 2014 which threatened to limit numerous freedoms within the Constitution of Kenya. However, through the judicial intervention of CSOs a number of the proposed amendments were rejected on the grounds of unconstitutionality. Much like Josephat Mwenda, human rights defenders continue to face malicious persecution in an attempt to intimidate them into silence. 

6. What can international civil society do to support human rights defenders and civil society in Kenya?

International CSOs can impress upon the Kenyan government to demand accountability for the three who were executed and call on the president of Kenya to form a judicial commission of inquiry into summary executions in Kenya and make the findings of the commission public. Further International CSOs can also put pressure on governments of Sweden, the United Kingdom and United States of America that are currently providing financial support to the Kenya police units implicated in extrajudicial killings, to urge Kenyan authorities to ensure effective investigations into these killings and prosecution of those responsible.



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