Earlier versions of this story had two time elements wrong. It said the deaths of the two activists came a week after a government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, accused the Oscar Foundation of being a front for a violent, cultlike gang. That statment came just hours before the two men were killed. Also, the earlier version said that the killings came weeks after U.N. official Philip Alston issued a report on police killings in Kenya. Instead, it was one week after that report. This version has been corrected.
2 Kenyan Rights Activists Slain
Saturday, March 7, 2009
NAIROBI, March 6 -- Human rights groups, U.N. officials and Kenya's prime minister on Friday called for an independent investigation into the execution-style killings of two Kenyan human rights activists, as political tensions are once again rising in this East African nation.
In what appeared to be an ambush, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu were shot at close range Thursday while their car was stuck or deliberately trapped in traffic in downtown Nairobi, witnesses told the Associated Press. Two gunmen fled.
The two activists had been campaigning against illegal killings by police and had recently cooperated with a wide-ranging U.N. investigation into the matter, including police killings of opposition demonstrators after the disputed 2007 presidential election. The resulting U.N. report called for the resignation of Kenya's police commissioner and the attorney general.
The two activists, who worked with the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic, had issued their own 2007 report on extrajudicial police killings.
"Any objective observer has to conclude that the police would be prime suspects," said Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. "I hope that's not the case, but the only way to show that is with an independent investigation."
The killings came just hours after a government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, accused the Oscar Foundation in a live television broadcast of being a front for a violent, cultlike gang known as the Mungiki, which runs protection and transportation rackets. The group had staged a major demonstration across Nairobi on Thursday.
The Oscar Foundation has defended Kenyans accused of being members of the group and had accused police of summarily executing alleged members in a show of government force.
In late 2007, President Mwai Kibaki was accused of stealing the election from opposition leader Raila Odinga and the country degenerated into violence. Today, a coalition government that in theory resolved the crisis is faltering badly.
Kibaki and Odinga -- who became prime minister under the deal -- have been paralyzed by scandal and disagreements, including on how to prosecute police and high-level political figures accused in the post-election violence.
On Friday, Odinga -- who has accused Kibaki of using the police to essentially execute opponents after the election -- harshly condemned the activists' deaths.
"I fear that we are flirting with lawlessness in the name of keeping law and order," Odinga said. "In the process, we are hurtling towards failure as a state."
The killings came just one week after Alston's report found a pattern of police killings in Kenya that were "systematic, widespread and carefully planned."
"You've got a society which is at risk of degenerating again into ethnic violence," he said in an interview Friday. "To the extent there are all these unanswered allegations about their involvement in the killings, I think that is pretty problematic."