Source The Guardian
Two Kenyan human rights activists who provided evidence to a senior UN investigator over execution-style murders by police were assassinated on a busy Nairobi street yesterday evening.
Oscar Kamau Kingara, the director of the Oscar Foundation, and its programme coordinator, John Paul Oulo, were shot at close range in their car by gunmen less than a mile from the presidential residence.
Only a few hours earlier the government had publicly accused their organisation, which runs free legal aid clinics for the poor, of being a front for a criminal gang.
A coalition of civil society organisations released a statement blaming police for the murders.
“These were very decent men who had done more work than anybody in examining police killings,” said Cyprian Nyamwamu, the executive director of the National Convention Executive Council, a non-governmental organisation advocating social and economic reform. “I have no doubt that is why they were killed.”
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and the UN demanded an immediate investigation into the deaths.
Police have denied any involvement and attributed yesterday’s killings to “rivalry or thuggery”.
The Oscar Foundation made its name investigating police abuses. Since 2007 it has reported 6,452 “enforced disappearances” by police and 1,721 extrajudicial killings.
Many of those killed were alleged members of the feared Mungiki gang, which runs Mafia-like networks but was also used by members of President Mwai Kibaki’s party to launch retaliatory attacks during last year’s election violence.
Kingara, a 37-year-old lawyer who founded the organisation in 1998, recently presented his detailed findings on police killings to two parliamentary committees.
He and Oulo, a former student leader, met and briefed Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, when he was conducting a 10-day investigation in security force abuses in Kenya last month.
Alston’s scathing report, which criticised Kibaki and called for the sacking of the police chief and the attorney general, caused uproar in Kenya and deeply angered the authorities.
Alfred Mutua, a Government spokesman, said in his weekly press conference yesterday that the UN report had emboldened Mungiki, which held protests against the extrajudicial killings just hours before the murders.
Mutua accused the Oscar Foundation of raising funds for Mungiki and of planning the protests.
Eric Kiraithe, a police spokesman, had warned that the security forces were “definitely going to get” those behind the demonstrations.
Kingara admitted helping relatives of dead Mungiki members to seek justice but strongly denied any formal relations with the gang. In a radio interview shortly before his death Kingara said he would sue Mutua over the allegations.
“This was a completely false accusation by the police,” said Mwalimu Mati, a prominent civil society activist who had worked with Kingara on a project examining illegal land grabs.
Kingara and Oulo had been driving along State House Road to a meeting at the KNCHR at 6pm yesterday when their path was blocked by at least two cars. Two gunmen emerged from a minivan and shot through the driver and passenger windows.
The assailants kept firing into the air to keep any bystanders away until they were sure both men were dead, before escaping in the van.
Police said that students from the nearby University of Nairobi moved Oulo’s body into a hostel and one student was shot dead when officers tried to retrieve it.
Three officers who fired live rounds inside the university had been arrested, police said.
In a statement from New York, Alston expressed shock at the news and called for a foreign-led investigation into the murders, suggesting that Scotland Yard or the South African police be involved.
“It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi,” Alston said.
Backstory: police brutality
The UN investigation into murders by Kenyan police published last week found strong evidence of “systematic, widespread and carefully planned extrajudicial executions undertaken on a regular basis”.
The report by the UN special rapporteur Philip Alston looked at killings during political protests, a counterinsurgency campaign in Mount Elgon, and attempts to wipe out the Mungiki criminal gang. Human rights groups said more than 500 alleged gang members had been kidnapped and murdered by police death squads since 2007.
“These are not ‘rogue’ squads, but are police who are acting on the explicit orders of their superiors,” said Alston, who praised the quality of reporting and analysis by groups such as the Oscar Foundation.
His findings were boosted by the release of a video interview conducted by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights with a police whistleblower who described witnessing 58 murders by a special police unit. Four months after the interview last year, Bernard Kiriinya was shot in the back of the head in Nairobi. No arrests have been made.