A section of the human rights fraternity in Kenya has welcomed the new government's intention to open up fresh inquiries into human rights violations attributed to the previous Kenya African National Union (KANU) government.
Gitau Wanguthi, the coordinator of the grass-roots pressure group, Release Political Prisoners (RPP), told IRIN on Thursday that the government's decision to set up a new commission to inquire into past human rights abuses by KANU since independence from Britain in 1963 indicated the commitment of the current National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) government to beginning the process of eradicating impunity in order to heal the country. "I think it is a very positive move, because it gives us hope that no-one will ever do that to other people," Wanguthi said.
Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kiraitu Murungi said at the weekend that his ministry would establish such a commission. The alleged violations, which include torture, extrajudicial killings and the unsolved murders of prominent politicians such as the opposition MP, J.M. Kariuki, in 1975 and former Foreign Minister Robert Ouko in 1990.
Murungi was speaking when the Narc government, which was sworn in on 30 December following a landslide election victory, opened up for the first time the dungeons in the basement Nyayo House in the capital, Nairobi, where hundreds of political prisoners were tortured and killed during the height of political repression in the 1980s.
In a new report, RPP has cited at least 30 cases of people arrested and charged or jailed for political offences, and urged the government to review the cases. "We are asking that those in prison be released and cases to be withdrawn," Waguthi said.
Wanguthi, himself former political prisoner, said human rights groups had recently held a meeting and prepared a list of demands - including the establishment of a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission, and opening up the prisons to scrutiny - which they subsequently presented to Murungi. Murungi has promised to look into the issues, according to Wanguthi. "As a graduate of the torture chambers, I am very positive that the government will look into all the things we have been fighting against," Wanguthi said.
KANU has, however, accused the Narc government of "witch-hunting". "Narc is free to witch-hunt as much as they want, but we are demanding that they should at least have the courtesy to respect the law and try to do whatever they want within the constitution," the Nairobi-based Daily Nation quoted William Ruto, KANU's director of elections, as saying.
"Those who perpetrated crimes must first be proven guilty. Rather than approach things by using street mobs, they can approach them in a much more sober and reconciliatory manner, and consolidate the people as one nation," Ruto added.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions