Kenyans: Abuses continue despite new constitution

AP News
Posted: Oct 15, 2010 11:10 AM
Kenyans: Abuses continue despite new constitution

Kenya's government heralded the country's new constitution as a "fresh start," but human rights groups said Friday that new reports of killings and illegal extraditions raise questions about whether any real changes have been made.

The International Center for Policy and Conflict alleged that five men have been killed by police officers since the constitution became law in August. The government denies knowledge of the killings. Eight Kenyan suspects also have been illegally extradited to Uganda, the group said.

The new constitution, which was heavily backed by U.S. President Barack Obama, was supposed to herald a new beginning for Kenya and provide a bedrock of reforms that would tackle the impunity, corruption and tribalism that have impaired development in Kenya for decades.

Still, officials say the process of implementing the constitution will be staggered over the next five years, including a two-year program to comprehensively overhaul Kenya's security agencies.

"Kenyans are still struggling to find the real aspects of the much talked about change through the new constitution," said Steve Musau of Release Political Prisoners rights group.

Kenya's old constitution had been partly blamed for causing the death of more than 1,000 people in postelection violence nearly two years ago. The old constitution created a powerful presidency, and analysts say abuse of those powers by successive regimes led to inequalities in land distribution, rampant corruption and human rights abuses _ all of which fueled tensions among Kenyans.

Nearly 70 percent of Kenyans voted to remove the old constitution. But only days after it became law, Samuel Wanguru's body was found dumped with four others, all riddled with bullet wounds in the outskirts of Nairobi, according to morgue records. The five were last seen in police custody at the Kinoo Police Post about 6 miles (10 kilometers) outside the capital.

Wanguru's uncle, George Ngugi, found his 24-year-old nephew's body at a city morgue four days after he disappeared. He said there is no doubt in his mind that police killed his nephew and the others.

"I voted for this new constitution believing in change and reforms in the police force but now I feel cheated," Ngugi said.

Between August and September, eight Kenyan suspects accused of involvement in the July bomb attacks in Uganda that left 76 people dead, were arrested and illegally transferred to Uganda. Two judges from Kenya's second-highest court earlier this month declared the extraditions were illegal and in breach of the constitution.

Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua said Thursday he did not know about the deaths of the five men and declined to comment on the issue of illegal extraditions. He said it was to early to judge the government's commitment to change.

"It takes a really keen observer to see any real government commitment to the new constitutional framework," said Hassan Omar Hassan, of the government funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Ben Rawlence, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said that the illegal transfer of suspects to Uganda suggests that the new constitution has not heralded any real change.

"A new constitution is only a piece of paper unless the rights and responsibilities it describes are made real by the institutions of state," Rawlence said.

Paul Muite, a prominent Kenyan constitutional lawyer, says the concerns being raised about ongoing police brutality and extraditions are a reality check for Kenyans who thought change would be immediate.

"We need to ask ourselves if we are asking the same beneficiaries of grand corruption and land grabbing since independence in 1963 to implement this constitution?" Muite said.