EU Urges Kenya to Speed Up Protection of Witnesses to Violence

The European Union has urged Kenya to speed up the establishment of a program to protect witnesses to major crimes including post-election violence in 2008 that left 1,500 people dead, Dutch Ambassador Laetitia van den Assum said.

“We are very disappointed that no significant action has been taken yet to take the present system forward and to operationalize it,” van den Assum told reporters today in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. She made remarks at a press conference alongside fellow diplomats from the European Union. “We have raised it on various occasions with the government to encourage them to make it operational and to make it available to individuals.”

Kenyan lawmakers in April approved the Witness Protection (Amendment) Bill, which provides for the creation of an independent agency with the powers to protect prosecution witnesses. The agency will succeed the now-defunct Witness Protection Program, part of the attorney general’s office, Dominic Onyango, an office spokesman, said today by phone.

An estimated 1,500 people died in two months of clashes triggered by a disputed presidential election in December 2007. The rioting erupted after President Mwai Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu, won office for a second term in an election opposition supporters claimed was rigged. Under a coalition accord mediated by Annan to end the violence, Kibaki remained president for a second term and Raila Odinga, the then-opposition leader, became prime minister.

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said last week he will file cases by Dec. 17 against six suspects who bear the greatest responsibility for organizing and carrying out the post-election clashes. Families of people perceived to be ICC witnesses have been threatened, the court in The Hague said in an e-mailed statement on Dec. 3.

Producing a Manual

The new Witness Protection Agency was given 20 million shillings ($248,911) in the budget ending June 30 to start its work, beginning with the production of an operating manual, Onyango said. "Once they are on their feet, they will have the power to recruit their own staff and de-link from the AG’s office," he said.

Stephen Rapp, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan have expressed concern that people who witness crimes in Kenya face threats and intimidation because there is no program to protect them.

The ICC has its own witness protection system operating autonomously from the Kenyan government’s, van den Assum said.

“That doesn’t mean that a case should not be made to put into place a properly functioning and financially significantly endowed independent program of witness protection for Kenya,” she said.

Britain donated 200,000 pounds ($315,720) to the ICC to help relocate victims and witnesses to post-election violence in Kenya whose lives are at risk, citing concerns about intimidation and interference, according to a Nov. 26 statement on the ICC’s website.

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