, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 25 – Ten eminent past members of African truth commissions have urged besieged Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat to bow out from the chairmanship of Kenya’s Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Chairperson of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission led the personalities in calling on Ambassador Kiplagat to step down on the basis of findings by two government bodies that he allegedly committed improper or illegal acts.
In a statement they said there would be a conflict of interest with his role as TJRC chairperson and put commission’s work and reputation at risk.
Their statement read: “We are deeply troubled by serious allegations of bias and misconduct that have been made against Chairperson Kiplagat. The allegations about his role in the former Moi government have generated a widely held perception that he labours under an unavoidable conflict of interest and that he is unable to bring an impartial mind to bear on his important duties as TJRC Chairperson.”
Director of International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) Africa Program Suliman Baldo who hosted the meeting by the personalities said "If the TJRC is to be effective, it has to be free of any taint of real or perceived bias and impropriety."
"To safeguard the commission’s work, we believe these international justice figures are exactly right in calling for the chairperson’s resignation."
Others who endorsed the statement include; Bishop Joseph Christian Humper (former
chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone), Salomon Lerner Febres (the former chairperson of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and Alexander Lionel Boraine (Chairperson of the Mauritian Truth & Reconciliation Commission).
Others are former South African Truth Commissioners Yasmin Sooka, Dumisa Ntsebeza, Bongani Blessing Finca, Mary Burton Richard Lyster and Dr Fazel Randera
Below is the full statement:
We, former chairpersons and commissioners of truth commissions from around the world, respectfully call upon Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat, Chairperson of the Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission’s (TJRC) to step down from his positions as Chairperson and Commissioner.
We are deeply troubled by serious allegations of bias and misconduct that have been made against Chairperson Kiplagat. The allegations about his role in the former Moi government have generated a widely held perception that he labours under an unavoidable conflict of interest and that he is unable to bring an impartial mind to bear on his important duties as TJRC Chairperson.
We are advised that in previous years, a statutory Commission of Inquiry as well as a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry have made disturbing findings against Ambassador Kiplagat on matters that fall squarely within the TJRC’s mandate.
The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Illegal and Irregular Allocation of Public Land (released in 2004) makes references to instances of the illegal acquisition of public land on the part of Ambassador Kiplagat.
The Report of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the Murder of Dr. Robert Ouko includes a report from an investigation team which concluded that Ambassador Kiplagat was untruthful in his submissions. While Ambassador Kiplagat has disputed the references to him in these reports, they nonetheless have a direct and serious impact on public perceptions in relation to his fitness to hold high office in the Commission.
All truth commissioners must be seen to be upholding the highest standards of ethics and integrity. They need to be seen to be scrupulously independent and objective. We are constrained to point out that Ambassador Kiplagat does not meet these essential standards.
We note that truth commissions must enjoy the confidence of the public to succeed. Since objective grounds of a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of Ambassador Kiplagat exist in the minds of the public, he is duty bound to resign for the greater good of the commission and country.
We believe that if the current state of affairs is not addressed the TJRC will not be able to deliver truth, justice and accountability for past injustices and gross human rights violations. For these reasons we call upon Ambassador Kiplagat to immediately step down so that the TJRC may proceed with its critical tasks of promoting justice and combating impunity in Kenya.
End of statement.
Since the Commission began its preliminary work early this month, it has been met by public walkout who were demanding the resignation of Kiplagat. The Civil society has sustained calls for Ambassador Kiplagat since his appointment and last week the Kenya Human Rights Commission alleged it had evidence to link Ambassador Kiplagat to some of the violations and gave him a seven-day ultimatum to step aside.
Chief Justice Evan Gicheru is also expected to appoint three judges to a hear case in which a number of former MPs are questioning the eligibility if Ambassador Kiplagat’s leadership.
The Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs is set to meet the embattled Commission on Friday, “to find a way out of the current credibility crisis.”
The besieged commission has been holding crisis meetings to seek a way forward, as it become more apparent that the validity of its work is at stake. The last of the meetings was held on Wednesday. The commissioners are said to be divided right in the middle over whether the chairman should step aside.
Ambassador Kiplagat has maintained that he will not step aside and shoved off accusations that he was involved in any atrocities by the former regime. Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo is also on record defending the Chairman and accusing the civil society activists of failing to use laid down structures to raise their objections.
The Minister said the government would not take any action since he was not a government employee but was recruited through a process in which the civil society was one of the key participants.
A panel comprising members of the private sector and the civil society had recommended Ambassador Kiplagat alongside former Anglican Bishop Benjamin Nzimbi and Rev Timothy Njoya for the post of chairman.
The Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs settled on Ambassador Kiplagat and his appointment was subsequently passed by MPs.