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The Kenyan government must set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate and bring to justice all those suspected of criminal responsibility for extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, said 13 Kenyan and global human rights organizations today as they marked the International Day of the Disappeared.

Kenyan and global human rights organizations have documented more than 300 cases of individuals who have gone missing while in the hands of security agencies since 2009, some of whom have later been found killed.

“Enforced disappearances have become a widespread practice, and a dark stain on the fabric of law enforcement in Kenya that can only be sustainably addressed by bringing to account those suspected of responsibility through fair trials,” said Peter Kiama, Executive Director of the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU).

“But fair trials cannot take place without prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the myriad cases of disappearances and executions.”

Just this month, the High Court in Nairobi found that a prominent human rights lawyer and two other men had been subjected to enforced disappearance and later executed by police. The bodies of Willie Kimani, who worked for International Justice Mission, his client Josphat Mwendwa and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri, were found dumped in a river about 73 kilometres northwest of Nairobi in July.

Many of the enforced disappearances have taken place in the context of operations against perceived members or sympathisers of the Somalia-based Islamist militant group, Al-Shabaab.

“While indeed Kenya faces a real security threat from Al-Shabaab, it must not resort to unlawful responses that amount to crimes under international law and violate human rights,” said Kamau Ngugi, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders.

“It should instead insist on strict respect for human rights and due process at all times, including in its security operations. This must begin with ensuring criminal accountability for both individual police officers and their superiors who knew or should have known of the enforced disappearances and killings and failed to take all necessary measures to prevent or repress them.”

Kenya has signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, but has yet to ratify it.

“Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law. Kenya must take concrete steps towards ratifying the Convention without making any reservation so as to ensure that impunity does not prevail for this cruel human rights violation,” said Justus Nyang’aya, Country Director of Amnesty International Kenya.

The human rights organizations will hold a public event at Strathmore University’s main auditorium from 4:30pm today in honour of victims of enforced disappearance and to demand justice, truth and reparation for them.