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Kenya, witness protection on way

Wako launches programme to protect whistle blowers

Story by ODHIAMBO ORLALE
Publication Date: 5/8/2008

The wheels of justice will spin faster from July 1, when the long-awaited Witness Protection Programme is implemented.

AG Amos Wako presents the report on the operationalisation of the Witness Protection Act to Justice minister Martha Karua as KACC director Aaron Ringera looks on. Photo CHRIS OJOW

Attorney general Amos Wako said the Witness Protection Act, passed by Parliament in 2006, would be implemented on that day after funds are allocated by the Minister for Finance, Mr Amos Kimunya, in his annual budget statement to be read in June.

Witnesses who would like to testify against militia and criminal gangs like the Mungiki and the Sabaot Lands Defence Force would be some of the first beneficiaries, the AG said.

The landmark programme would be national and would be run by the Witness Protection Unit under the AG’s Chambers in the State Law Office.

But the AG said it has to wait for two months before it was implemented because it would be a very expensive programme to run.

Mr Wako was addressing guests at the launch of the ambitious programme in Nairobi, where he also expressed confidence that the new law would assist the law enforcement officers speed up and fight crime more effectively, saying more witnesses will forward and testify freely in courts of law.

Mr Wako put criminal gangs and militias such as the dreaded Mungiki on notice, saying their time was up.  At the same time, the AG said he was proud that the ambitious programme was the second of its kind in Africa, after South Africa.

Also addressing guests at the launch of the multi agency task team on the operationalisation of the new law, Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Ms Martha Karua, described it as a milestone in the country’s history saying it was a major boost to the fight against organised crime.

Said the minister: “With this programme, more people will come forward to testify without fear of reprisal, for the benefit of more citizens.”

Ms Karua appealed to the police department, the judiciary, the prisons department among others to work together and support the new programme saying it was the most effective and efficient way to unclog the criminal justice system, where courts have reported huge backlogs of cases.

The launch was held at Kenyatta International Conference Centre and was attended by Police Commissioner Hussein Ali, the director of Kenya Anti Corruption Commission Mr Aaron Ringera, Commissioner of Prisons Mr Gilbert Omondi, and the Director of Public Prosecutions Mr Keriako Tobiko, among others.

The Police Commissioner threw his weight behind the witness protection programme saying that over 12,000 post elections violence cases pending before various courts in the country would be expedited once the new law is implemented.

Said the Police Commissioner: “The fight against organised crime has been frustrated because of lack of a witness protection programme like the one being launched here today. In the past three months we have had 12,000 cases related to post elections violence, which this programme will help us deal with effectively.”

General Ali cited fear of victimisation, being labeled a traitor and/or an outcast as the reason why most witnesses are reluctant to support the law enforcement and judicial officers in discharging their duties.

In his speech, the AG attributed the slow pace of arresting and prosecuting suspects by the police and the judiciary to most witnesses’ fear of retribution.

Said Mr Wako: “The intimidation of witnesses has become such a typical feature of criminal investigations and prosecutions in criminal cases that protection measures for witnesses are considered an essential element of a country’s arsenal.”

The AG noted that the Government’s piecemeal attempts to criminalise witness harassment in the penal code, The Anti Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, and the Sexual Offences Act, were not sufficient to confront the challenges posed by the more organised national and trans-national criminal networks.

On his part, the DPP said he was looking forward to using the programme to fight crime. Mr Tobiko regretted that the country has been seriously affected by rising cases of drug and human traffickers; terror suspects, cross-border crimes, small arms dealers and corruption cases.

Said the DPP: “There is no doubt that the increasing viciousness and brutality of such gangs as Mungiki and SLDF has reduced the number of witnesses ready to testify in our courts of law. This has made the work of law enforcers very difficult.”

Mr Tobiko said that once the programme kicks off in two months time, a witness who wishes to be relocated out of the country and have his or her identity changed would benefit.

But the DPP stressed that the programme would be strictly enforced and would for the sake of promoting the criminal justice system: “This programme will be used to fight crime and not used as a welfare programme!”

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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