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Kenya’s human rights body row persists

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 8 – A crisis meeting called by Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo to work out the leadership tussle at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) ended in a deadlock on Wednesday after the commissioner failed to reach an agreement.

The two hour meeting was attended by among others, embattled chairperson Florence Jaoko and her former deputy Hassan Omar Hassan.

The commissioners have been pushing Ms Jaoko to step down as their chair citing dissatisfaction with her leadership.

When it seemed there were no positive results, Mr Kilonzo walked out of the meeting leaving the commissioners to continue with their discussions.

Efforts by journalists camped outside Co-operative House Building to get a comment failed as the commissioners made a hasty exit from the Justice Ministry.

“We have had consultations and now we are just heading back to our offices,” said Ms Jaoko.

“We are continuing to have consultations, please give us space to leave,” said Mr Omar. 

The KNCHR Act stipulates that the chairman can only be removed by a tribunal appointed by the Chief Justice.

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The tribunal will inquire into the matter and report the facts to the Chief Justice who will then communicate the recommendations to the President for necessary action.

Where the question of removing the chairperson has been referred to a tribunal the President may suspend the officer from the Commission.

The suspension may at any time be revoked by the President and shall cease to have effect if the tribunal recommends that the chairperson or the commissioner should not be removed.

The leadership row at the commission started in May when the commissioners asked Ms Jaoko to step down, saying they were dissatisfied with her leadership.

They said the commission\’s profile had fallen since former chairman Maina Kiai left and it needed urgent intervention to rebuild the image.

Ms Jaoko however argued that she had not been treated fairly by the commissioners and would not resign.

The commission is an independent national human rights institution whose core mandate is to protect and promote basic rights in Kenya.

The commissioners include Ms Jaoko, Hassan Omar, Wambui Kimathi, Winfred Lichuma, Samuel Tororei, Fatuma Ibrahim, Mr Lawrence Mute, Fatuma Dullo, Anne Ngugi and Mohamed Hallo.

Divisions came to the fore early in the year when it emerged that there was leakage of vital witness protection information to politicians.

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Prior to this, there had been claims of rivalry between Ms Jaoko and her then deputy, Mr Omar, who was accused of hogging the limelight at the expense of the chairperson.

Some commissioners, led by Ms Jaoko, were pushing for disciplinary measures against Mr Omar for being vocal and issuing statements to the media without the chairperson’s knowledge but the move was pre-empted when Mr Omar resigned as the deputy chairman.

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