ODM: No retreat on amnesty quest
Published on June 3, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
President Kibaki came under a barrage of “friendly fire” from Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Cabinet minister, Mr William Ruto, as the question of amnesty for post-election violence suspects returned to haunt the fragile Grand Coalition Government.
It would seem that the country has slowly wriggled itself into a situation where the events immediately following the declaration of the December 27 presidential election have again split the protagonists into ODM and PNU camps.
With this, one group’s so-called freedom fighters and liberators are now being viewed as terrorists by the opposing group and vice versa.
The outcome appeared to threaten another stalemate similar to the one that crippled the country early in the year as international mediators battled to broker a political settlement out of the impasse.
Last night, those in the Prime Minister’s camp seemed to suggest that no reconciliation would be possible without the release of innocent protesters, as at least six MPs, three Assistant ministers and a second Cabinet minister also joined the fray.
ODM read “cynicism” and “double-standards” in the President’s Madaraka Day edict, with Ruto calling for politicians who manipulated presidential election results at Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) on December 29, 2007 to be charged.
The party said it would not drop its quest for the truth in the election dispute and justice for all Kenyans who it says were killed or attacked by neighbours or the police, which acted as an armed wing of PNU.
On Monday, a day after President Kibaki sealed the fate of the suspects who are being held at various police stations across the country, a statement issued from the PM’s office stated: “These anti-impunity leaders are referring only to youth whose only ‘crime’ was staging lawful protests in their anger over the ECK’s criminal conduct of the elections.
“These leaders have never once talked of there being no impunity for the security forces who were responsible for more than half of the killings.”
The statement issued by Mr Salim Lone, the PM’s Director of Communications added: “The vast majority of youth who are in custody killed or raped no one. They were defending democracy and electoral justice in the only manner available to them.”
Even though it acknowledges that, indeed, there were killings, rapes and violent robberies by enraged citizens and that such individuals must face the law, the PM’s statement takes issue with the fact that the same police force, which was responsible for many deaths, has been placed in charge of investigations.
And speaking to The Standard on telephone from Rome, Ruto told those opposed to the release of the youths: “You’re victimising ‘small fry’ whose only mistake was to demonstrate against election irregularity.”
He posed: “Where are the politicians who stubbornly blocked the reconstitution of the ECK last year? Where is the leadership of the security forces that failed to do its work? What about the ECK commissioners who participated in the election fraud?”
Sealing the fate of the suspects, President Kibaki, in his Madaraka Day speech at the Nyayo National Stadium, Nairobi at the weekend, observed: “No normal person can ask for the release of malicious people who will continue with incitement.”
But Ruto, the Agriculture minister and Eldoret North MP, argued that it was wrong to arrest the youths, when it had been alleged that the violence was planned and financed by politicians before it was executed.
“If we are not ready to charge the politicians and the so called planners and financiers, then what moral authority do we have to charge mere pawns in a huge political game?” Ruto posed.
He added: “The test the country is facing is not whether the youth should be granted amnesty. The test is whether we are prepared to continue promoting the culture of having two sets of law for the big boys and the defenceless small fry.”
Sotik MP Ms Lonah Laboso said Rift Valley leaders would meet to chart the way forward, but said they would not fall short of demanding the release of youths in police custody.
She warned: “Our relationship in the Grand Coalition will only be sealed with the release of the youths who are still in jail.”
Need for caution
Rongai MP, Mr Lucas Kigen, expressed anger at the President’s order, saying it was a sad day for Kenyans.
“We are perplexed by the Government’s doublespeak. We thought it was a position by some ministers but now we have seen it is the Government’s position,” he said.
Keiyo North MP, Mr Lucas Chepkittony, said the youths must be released unconditionally, noting: “I’m surprised that they have not been taken to court. They have been detained for far too long than the law requires indicating that they want to torture them.”
South Mugirango MP, Mr James Magara, said youths who took part in civil disobedience marches should be released, but those who killed and committed rape should face the law.
Naivasha MP, Mr John Mututho, said the issue should be handled with caution: “When people were killed, Kibaki was in charge and he should have protected them. When Raila called for mass action, he should have known that there would be consequences.”
Ms Linah Jebii, the Cooperatives Assistant minister, backed the President’s directive, saying: “We should deal with them like the President said. Post-election violence could recur every time if not sorted out once and for all.”
Nairobi Metropolitan minister, Mr Mutula Kilonzo, also backed Kibaki’s declaration of no amnesty, saying the President was in fact being polite.
“Politicians calling for amnesty must wait for the Waki Commission to finalise its investigations. It is the Commission that will advice on who is to be granted amnesty,” said Mutula, warning that granting amnesty without thorough investigations could set bad precedence.
Muhoroni MP and Assistant Basic Education minister, Prof Ayiecho Olweny, told The Standard that without amnesty, the resettlement of IDPs would fail.
Said he: “With no amnesty and release of post-election violence suspects, we will have calm but not sustained peace.”
In its statement on Monday, ODM said some youths being held in police cells were facing trumped up charges of robbery with violence, which is a non-bailable offence, in order to punish them.
The party also observes that where bail is applicable, it is set at such an exorbitant amount that the youths are unable to afford.
In addition, thousands of the arrested protestors have not been charged, which is a violation of the rule of law, it adds.
The party further states that while demonstrations took place nationwide, police used maximum force in the Rift Valley, western Kenya and selected parts of Nairobi in order to portray the violence as coming from specific ethnic groups.
“Indeed, this use of brutal force was pre-planned by stationing large police contingents in these areas, as it was known that protests would erupt when the fraudulent election results were announced,” the statement adds.
It adds: “These police officers who killed innocent Kenyans in Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley and the Coast looked the other way as ODM supporters were hacked to death or burnt in their homes in Naivasha, Nakuru, Nairobi and Central province.”
— Additional reports by Samuel Otieno and Morton Saulo