, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 5 – Chief Justice Willy Mutunga on Monday challenged elected leaders and government officials who did not want to obey court rulings to resign from public office.
The CJ, who spoke during the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation conference, argued that the officials took an oath to respect constitutional institutions including the Judiciary and should therefore live up to the pledge.
His statement comes days after Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula dismissed a court ruling ordering the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir should he set foot in Kenya over war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.
“Any public or State official who finds certain clauses administratively inconvenient must be reminded that the vacation from office is an honourable option if they no longer feel capable of honouring their oath,” he urged.
“Living by the Constitution of Kenya is not a choice for any individual from the tiniest hut to State House; this Constitution must apply,” he stressed.
He also noted that no one was exempted from respecting court orders adding that the law was applicable to all and sundry. He further asked the President and Prime Minister to ensure that the Constitution was upheld.
“To fail to protect this Constitution would be a betrayal of your own struggles; a betrayal of your oath of office and a betrayal of the struggles and aspirations of many Kenyans. Each institution must go back and read the Constitution and systematically understand what it means for their work,” he argued.
On Saturday, President al-Bashir issued a terse statement threatening to slap a broad array of sanctions on Kenya unless the order for his arrest, issued by High Court judge Justice Nicholas Ombija, was lifted.
Sudan had expelled Kenya’s envoy to the country and also recalled its own after the court ruling before rescinding its decision after holding a crisis meeting with Wetangula and his Defence counterpart Yusuf Haji.
Meanwhile, civil society groups led by Njeri Kabeberi of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy have also warned Bashir against setting foot on Kenyan soil saying they will arrest him.
Kabeberi issued the warning during the conference arguing that Kenya was a democratic state that had international obligations to conform to and should therefore not associate itself with Bashir.
“We are giving a notice to the Executive that if they do not arrest al-Bashir if he comes to Kenya, we shall have a citizens’ arrest because we have to respect ourselves as a nation,” she said amidst applause.
The chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, Charles Nyachae also criticised the Executive for dismissing the Judiciary saying the utterances made by Wetangula were an outward show of impunity.
Nyachae argued that the statements risked derailing judicial reforms, envisaged by the new law, and also challenged Attorney General Githu Muigai to clear the air on the issue.
Former Constitutional of Kenya Review Commission Chair, Yash Pal Ghai, also condemned the attempts by the Executive to undermine the credibility of the Judiciary.
“That the Executive can come out boldly and make sentiments that not only demean the authority of the Judiciary but are also completely out of order sends a very bad message. We really need to nip it in the bud,” argued Nyachae.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission also reiterated its view on the matter, saying constitutional offices must be respected.
The Executive was also criticised for walking out of the conference, which is supposed to spearhead a three-tier discussion between the government, civil society and panel of eminent personalities on the country’s reform agenda.
Both Nyachae and Ghai accused the government of contempt and self centeredness noting that the Prime Minister walked out after making his speech while Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, who was supposed to be a panellist, briefly attended the session before walking out.