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Big Task Ahead for Kenya’s New Police Chief

Time to Take a Bold Step to Address Police Abuses

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Kenya swore in a new Inspector General of Police earlier this month. Just like his predecessors, Hillary Nzioki Mutyambai is saying all the right things. In his acceptance speech, he promised to ensure that police – who have a bad rap in Kenya – respect human rights. Few people however, especially in the human rights community, will buy these promises without action.

Shortly after his nomination, Kenyan human rights groups called on the new police chief to ensure officers respect rule of law, enforce outstanding court orders against senior state officials, investigate cases of police killings, and take measures to end unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and other abuses by the police.

Aden Duale, a majority leader in Kenya’s National Assembly who was among a team of lawmakers who vetted and approved Mutyambai’s nomination by President Uhuru Kenyatta, also called on the new police chief to deal with human rights abuses – specifically the problem of enforced disappearances. “There is serious disappearance of Kenyans. There are bodies of Kenyans decomposing at city mortuary. This should be Mutyambai’s first assignment,” Duale said as parliament vetted the new police chief.

So how will Mutyambai respond to these calls ? He has asked people to let his actions speak for themselves and claims that “nobody in the police service is above the law.”

But Mutyambai’s background, as nominally the second in command of Kenya’s counterterrorism team – which stands accused of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture – gives serious cause for concern. Many families across Kenya are still grieving after counterterrorism police unlawfully killed or forcibly disappeared their relatives, and police abuses in the name of fighting terror are a long-standing sore point for many Kenyans. Given his involvement in Kenya’s counterterror campaign, Mutyambai needs to address this.

Families of the victims deserve justice, and Mutyambai’s first act as police chief should be to ensure that officers implicated in these abuses are held to account.