Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Violence threats must not derail wheels of justice

Sunday Nation 19 December 2010

As I finished writing this piece, I was watching the long-awaited announcement from The Hague on television at a public venue in Eldoret.

Some of those in the audience expressed fears that violence may break out following the naming of some high-ranking politicians.

A few minutes earlier, I had just read a report purporting to reveal plans for further ethnic cleansing in case some prominent politicians were named in the Ocampo List.

Just the previous day, I had had a conversation with some friends about the possible outcomes of the indictments, and the majority were also of the opinion that fresh hostilities were likely to break out if certain politicians were named.

This, therefore, appears to be the popular line -- that violence is inevitable if certain politicians are indicted over our so-called ‘‘political violence’’.

Indeed, this is not just a position held on the Kenyan street. On Monday last week, which was a public holiday, the President and Prime Minister called an urgent Cabinet meeting to discuss what to do about the Ocampo announcement.

They came out with a lame statement indicating that they will support a local tribunal to deal with the perpetrators of post-election violence.

Suddenly all sorts of busy-bodies started crawling out of the woodwork, as ‘‘elders’’ called on Ocampo to go easy on ‘‘our’’ suspects and let a ‘‘homegrown’’ solution deal with them.

A neglected ‘‘Tribunal Bill’’ drafted by Gitobu Imanyara was dusted and prepared for presentation to Parliament, with a promise of speedy passage to forestall the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutions.

Sovereignty and patriotism became buzzwords once again in this fight against the international criminal justice system.
In all this, the whole point of the ICC indictments was lost.

The memory of the hundreds of victims who perished, and hundreds of thousands who lost their homes and livelihoods, has been seriously desecrated as we rush to protect our own political ‘‘sons’’.

Many are ready to pour into the streets in defence of their indicted political leaders without thinking about the implication of such actions for the future generations.

The fact that our own government is reacting like a flock of panicked chicken to threats of violence indicates that the state does not have full and exclusive control over the instruments of violence.

This is one of the reasons that led to the cases being referred to The Hague in the first place and, despite passage of the new Constitution, the situation has not changed much.

More frighteningly, however, suspects in these trials have had the audacity to threaten Kenyans with dire consequences, and to cajole the government to acquiesce to their whims with regard to initiating a local tribunal.

It seems that the government is captive to these suspects and, therefore, Ocampo’s indictments must be regarded as an indictment of the entire political class.

In a civilised society, and ours is far from becoming one, William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Henry Kosgey, Francis Muthaura, Hussein Ali and Joshua arap Sang would quietly organise their legal defences and confront the ICC with strong exculpatory evidence, leading to their speedy acquittals.

In Kenya, however, threats, bribery and old-boy networks always work to frustrate the justice system to such an extent that the eventual outcome is often meaningless to the victims.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine. www.lukoyeatwoli.com

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