, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 5 – Civil society groups in Kenya have asked the government to strengthen the Witness Protection Agency ahead of the recommendations by a 20-member task force formed to audit the progress of criminal cases related to the 2008 post election violence.
Human Rights Watch Researcher for Africa Division Neela Ghoshal told Capital News that the taskforce should carefully consider how witnesses are assured of protection.
She said the government needs to allocate adequate funding to breathe life to the witness protection agency.
“It is there on paper but it doesn’t have enough funding,” Ghoshal argued.
She said the government has to strengthen the agency to ensure witnesses were fully protected once they give information on the post election violence.
“It will involve a lot of people testifying against their neighbours, local leaders and the political elite. No one will be willing to give this information unless the witness protection programme is operational and has demonstrated to the Kenyan people that it can be trusted,” she explained.
Although the Witness Protection Agency is represented in the task force formed last month to make recommendations with regards to the post election violence, human rights defender Ken Wafula questioned its credibility.
Wafula expressed concerns that the unit was likely to compromise protection of witnesses if their evidence touched influential people in the government or in the country.
“It will be difficult for the protection unit to do its work. Some of the perpetrators most likely will be Cabinet ministers, MPs, police… it is unreliable to have the same government offering protection,” he complained.
Wafula asked the government to include civil society groups in the witness protection agency.
International Centre for Transitional Justice Acting Head Christine Alai acknowledged the inclusion of witness protection representatives in the taskforce saying its role will be crucial in ensuring witnesses are kept safe.
The Director of Public Prosecutions formed the multi-agency taskforce last month to audit all ongoing investigations and the progress of the cases that are currently before courts in the country relating to the post election violence.
Members of the team are drawn from the DPP’s office, the police, the Justice Ministry as well as from the AG’s chambers. The Witness Protection Agency is represented by Lillian Obuo and Armstrong Shikuku.