Kenya has dismissed four senior judges in reforms government watchdogs believe will boost the judiciary's reputation and prevent a repeat of the country's 2007-08 postelection violence.
An independent vetting board announced on Wednesday that the judges, including the head of the Court of Appeal, were unfit to hold office for reasons including incompetence and a lack of professionalism. Some were accused of accepting bribes during their long careers.
"It is a very fundamental step in terms of bringing the process of restoring faith in the judicial process in this country," Hassan Omar, a Nairobi-based human rights lawyer who previously worked for the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said on Thursday. "I think there will be more (dismissals) to come."
Kenya passed a law in 2011 that authorized the vetting of judges and magistrates at all levels in response to widespread allegations of corruption within the East African country's judiciary.
The law was part of reforms agreed on in a deal that brought peace following Kenya's postelection violence. More than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced after President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner over opposition candidate Raila Odinga in a vote observers said was flawed. A peace deal mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made Odinga prime minister.
A 2008 government report said one of the reasons violence flared was the lack of trust in public institutions, including the judiciary, which was seen as lacking impartiality and integrity and unable to resolve election disputes.
Omar said Kenya's judicial system was littered with judges who are relics from the corruption-fueled era of former President Daniel arap Moi, judicial officers hired because they knew someone important. He said the lower rungs of the judiciary, especially the magistracy, were in urgent need of "the most radical of surgeries."
Kenyans are expected to vote in 2013 in elections that will be conditioned by the memory of thousands killed and property lost in violence that shattered the country's image as a beacon of stability in the region.