September 9, 2009

Kenya replaces police chief after abuse claims

Governmental shuffling of the Kenyan police force, but will it amount to anything more than a cosmetic reshuffling to placate prevailing political winds? And what exactly makes the new guy less complicit than the previous chief?

By TOM ODULA, Associated Press Writer Tom Odula, Associated Press Writer – Tue Sep 8, 9:24 am ET

NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya replaced its police chief on Tuesday months after human rights groups complained that some his officers killed and raped during the violent aftermath of the disputed December 2007 elections, but activists said more reforms are needed to restore confidence in a notoriously predatory police force.

A statement released by the government said Mohammed Hussein Ali was replaced with immediate effect by Mathew Kirai Iteere, who used to head the police paramilitary General Service Unit, which was also blamed for some abuses.

Ali will become head of the post office, according to a government statement which provided no explanation why he was being replaced as police chief. A number of other police appointments were also announced.

The police were fiercely criticized for raping, looting and killing civilians during weeks of riots following the elections . They were also accused in the execution-style killings of hundreds of young men in a crackdown on a banned gang called the Mungiki.

"Killings by the police in Kenya are systematic, widespread and carefully planned. They are committed at will and with utter impunity," a U.N. panel headed by U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston reported in February. Alston had called for Ali's resignation and that of the country's attorney general.

International watchdog Human Rights Watch and the country's state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights have made similar allegations of police killings and brutality, backed up by photos and the medical records of the alleged victims.

Two activists who tracked the gang-related killings were shot dead a few minute's walk from the house of the president earlier this year. A police whistleblower who provided information to the national rights body was also shot dead. The killings have yet to be solved.

The police have always denied committing rights abuses or extrajudicial killings.

Harun Ndubi, a director of civil rights group Haki Focus, said Ali's removal is an empty gesture unless the police finally act on recommendations for reform.

"It is like somebody changing the furniture in a condemned house whose walls are meant to be knocked down," he said.

Kenya's police consistently top the list of the most corrupt institutions in the country. They regularly demand bribes at roadblocks and the country's newspapers are full of reports of suspects gunned down in the streets.


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