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Stand Up! For Willie, Joseph and Josephat—
For the first time in the 20-year history of International Justice Mission (IJM), a member of our staff, the late Willie Kimani, was murdered last year as he sought justice for our client Josephat Mwenda.
June 23, 2016, remains a dark day. My colleague, Willie Kimani, was abducted by police as he left court, along with our client, Josephat Mwenda and the driver of their taxi, Joseph Muiruri. The bodies of the three, with visible injuries consistent with torture, were later recovered from the Ol Donyo Sabuk river on July 1, 2016.
Image 1 (from left to right): Josephat Mwenda, Willie Kimani and Joseph Muiruri
From the day their disappearance was announced, Kenyan civil society, lawyers and the public responded with an extraordinary show of unity and outrage. Thousands attended demonstrations in Nairobi. Hundreds of others across the country held simultaneous demonstrations. The legal fraternity from Thika came out to lay wreaths at the site of the recovery of the bodies on the bank of Ol Donyo Sabuk River. As a joint memorial mass was conducted in Nairobi, human rights defenders from Mombasa held a remembrance for the three and for others whose families continue to demand for justice.
This unified voice was a strong condemnation of blatant violations of human rights and a rallying call that enough is enough!
Image 2: protestors rally on the streets of Nairobi
The case, whose hearing is ongoing, epitomizes what happens when leadership consistently fails to hold police officers to account for acts of misconduct.
Click here to access our LIVE blog on the progress of the trial, seeking justice for the three.
Our client, Josephat—like hundreds of others who have experienced police brutality—had been shot in the arm by an Administration Police Officer. The officer then falsely charged Josephat to cover up the shooting—a familiar scenario in many areas across the country. IJM represents hundreds of men and women who are charged and jailed for the simple reason that the victims had the misfortune of crossing the path of corrupt cops.
The experience of our clients is widely shared. In 2013, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) published a study that revealed 64 percent of felony cases examined did not include evidence sufficient to justify charging, much less convicting the accused.
The impact of malicious charging by police on individual victims is catastrophic. Typically, those most affected are poor men or women from the urban slums or rural areas who are apprehended by local police officers looking to pin a crime on someone, anyone. The officers demand a bribe that s/he cannot pay. So, s/he gets slapped with serious charges, mostly “robbery with violence” or possession of bhang. This person ends up within the criminal justice system, remanded and unable to raise the stringent bail/bond terms that the seriousness of the charge demands. Meanwhile, the actual criminals freely roam the streets, engaging in other vices and for this reason, crime and insecurity increases.
This was the unfortunate case with Josephat Mwenda. However, Josephat didn’t meekly submit to the shooting, or the trumped up charges and the weeks in custody on remand. This boda-boda (motor cycle rider) driver decided that he’d had enough. He filed a formal complaint with the Independent Policing Oversight Authority—an institution created under the Kenyan Constitution precisely for the purpose of documenting and investigating these reports of police abuse.
Josephat’s confidence in the rule of law—and in a structure created to professionalize the police—cost him his life.
The Administration Police Officers who abducted, tortured and killed him were so confident in their untouchable authority that they also murdered the investigator supporting his case and their driver, all to ‘hide’ the initial crime. Fortunately, the abduction of Willie, Joseph and Josephat touched a raw nerve among Kenyans who have witnessed or experienced police brutality. Every single day, thousands of ordinary men and women pay off cops, so they can drive around in traffic, open up their little biasharas (roadside stalls), or lay out their goods at the market. They are cajoled for beer money by armed and drunken police, shot and beaten randomly, and jailed by the thousands for crimes they didn’t commit. Some have been tortured and killed.
Like Josephat Mwenda, Kenyans from all walks of life have had enough. The trial on the triple murders is ongoing, and our commitment to seek justice for our colleagues remains steadfast. But the murder of my colleague, our client and our driver is not the only case that requires meticulous investigation, professional prosecution and a trial with due process protections. Many other families continue to courageously seek justice for their loved ones. They too must have their day in court.
Image 3: protestors rally with the Law Society of Kenya
This current culture of lawlessness, impunity, corruption and violence within the police must end.
For this to happen investigations must not only be for the individual officers, but also include those in the police hierarchy who collaborate in or accommodate these crimes. The responsibility to make this happen falls squarely on the President of the Republic of Kenya.
He can only do so by establishing an independent, robust, end-to-end police accountability mechanism, with expert investigators, dedicated prosecutors, robust witness protection and fast-track trials, complemented by independent oversight and a disciplinary mechanism that quickly responds to misconduct. In our experience of working within the criminal justice system of Kenya for more than a decade, we have encountered numerous professional, passionate police officers, whose work we will never tire of praising and acknowledging. President Uhuru Kenyatta should task and empower our country’s best law enforcement officers to protect Kenyans from our worst.
Last year, the International Human Rights Day called on everybody to “stand up for someone’s rights today!”
Today, and in the coming days, for me and my colleagues, that somebody is Willie, Joseph and Josephat and our many other clients.
Stand up for someone's rights today! Sign the petition at IamWillie.co.ke.
The writer, Wamaitha Kimani, is International Justice Mission’s (IJM) Director of System Reform in Kenya. Reach out on Twitter @WamaithaKimani.