The Bill of Rights…The Constitution… Governed by the rule of law... Human rights… These have become buzzwords that many of us drop whenever it is convenient to do so.
Everyone talks about them, even despots.
But these aren’t just high-sounding words to grace those flowery speeches at international conferences.
Back at the grassroots, they are real and they mean the world to the millions of people who don’t have a voice.
They are about our civilisation, our nationhood, our social fabric, our sanity, our progress and our future… I could go on. But I am disappointed and miffed.
A person believed to be a police officer, according to a video that has been circulating on social media, shoots two young boys dead at close range in Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb on allegations of being hard-core criminals.
Cameras zoom in and out, capturing the incident from different angles.
After doing his thing, he walks away with a spring in his feet.
This action by itself is not totally surprising. Kenyan police stand accused of carrying out hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the past one year alone.
The most prominent case is the slaughter of human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client and their taxi driver.
Their bodies were dumped near a river in Machakos County.
Since 2009, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions have been well-documented by civil society and the media, particularly in counter-terrorism operations by security agencies, including police, army and paramilitary police.
These include at least 119 cases of enforced disappearance and 131 extrajudicial executions.
The reports have all established that a majority of extrajudicial executions are preceded by enforced disappearances, which significantly increase whenever security agencies crack down on suspected members of organised criminal groups.
What is shocking is the way Kenyans reacted to the Eastleigh killings.
There was a sense of excitement, celebration and thumbs-up on social media and on the streets.
Congratulatory messages flew in from different parts of the country.
The reasoning seemed to be, “two thugs off our streets makes us safer” and “the criminal justice system is not working so police action is justified”.
RULE OF LAW
Wait a minute! We are either a society governed by the rule of law or of the jungle.
We are either a civilisation or a collection of savages.
We are either progressing or retrogressing. Except in self-defence, nothing justifies the taking away of another person’s life.
It doesn’t matter what the police know about suspects.
Every Kenyan has a right to a fair trial and can only be sentenced to appropriate punishment by a court of law on being found guilty.
We celebrated the killer in the belief that he executed a “criminal”.
What then happens tomorrow when the same officer fells another man over a deal gone sour and plants a pistol on him to justify his action?
Will we support or condemn him? If the rule of law were to be set aside so that we deal with “criminals” then none of us would be safe.
Although there have been improvements in the past, the police service continues to suffer fatal flaws.
Allowing them to be the investigators, the prosecutors and the judges, would be risking our own civilisation and future.
Reports by human rights groups and media demonstrate that security agencies have been violating human rights.
One of the reasons police execute criminals and terror suspects is because they are incompetent at gathering evidence.
They opt to either kill or enforce disappearance of suspected terrorists instead of taking them to court to determine their guilt or innocence.
Kenyans must condemn extrajudicial killings. They are barbaric and retrogressive.
Yes, there are weaknesses in the criminal justice system but that, too, is our burden.
It is ours to fix. The weaknesses are not just in the Judiciary.
We have ill-funded, ill-trained and corrupt officers who either cannot connect the dots when it comes to criminal investigation or just opt to look the other way when money changes hands.
According to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, 64 per cent of the felony cases never meet the minimum evidentiary threshold to charge a suspect.
It is time for citizens to reject mediocrity. Indeed, there is an intricate relationship between the quality of leaders we elect and the quality of the criminal justice system.
If you want a system that works, hire people who respect the rule of law.
With the exception of a situation where an officer’s life is in danger, extrajudicial killings can never be justifiable.
Mr Nyang’aya is Amnesty International Kenya country director. You can reach him through email@example.com
This op-ed was published in The Daily Nation on Friday, 5th May 2017