Monday, April 19, 2010

HABARI ZA KUVUNJIKA: Betty Murungi quits TJRC (and this time she's gone for good!)

It seems public pressure is beginning to bear on the star-crossed, johnny-come-lately, keeping-up-with-the South-Africans Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
After more than a week of never-ending embarrassment and humiliation, vice chairperson Betty Murungi has finally left the commission. Ms Murungi handed in her resignation letter today to President Kibaki and also informed Commission chairman Bethuel Kiplagat of her decision. “I am doing so because my position had become untenable,” she said. Ms Murungi, who said she was resigning pursuant to Section 16(b) of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2008 thanked President Kibaki for the opportunity to serve Kenya in the Truth body.

She had previously resigned as vice chair of the commission after saying she could not stay on following her public utterances asking Mr Kiplagat to step down. Her move will further isolate Mr Kiplagat after the commissioners petitioned the Chief Justice on Friday to form a tribunal to investigate allegations linking him to past injustices.

In their petition, the commissioners said they wanted the tribunal to clear Mr Kiplagat of any wrongdoing and urged the law and due process to take its course. They said that the chairman should be investigated for allegations into the illegal or irregular acquisition of land; the death of former Foreign minister Dr Robert Ouko and the Wagalla Massacre.

The commissioners said that "we hope that the creation of a Tribunal will allow the Chairperson to vindicate his rights, to finally clear his name, and in the meantime allow the Commission to move forward with the real work of the Commission, the work that the people of Kenya have entrusted us to perform."

Mr Kiplagat has remained brave in the pressure for him to resign with civil society groups adding their voice to the clamour. The International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) last week demanded that Mr Kiplagat immediately steps aside to enable the commission fulfill its mandate. “Despite being a key mechanism to addressing Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence, the TJRC is being held hostage by Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat’s continued refusals to step down following credible allegations of bias and misconduct made against him,” said director of ICTJ’s Africa Program, Suliman Baldo.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) also said that Mr Kiplagat's tenure as TJRC's head had become untenable in face of the allegations facing him that had affected the credibility of the commission. When pressed on whether he would resign, Mr Kiplagat said that he would only do so if a tribunal is formed and if the law requires him to step aside.

A report of the Commission of Inquiry into Illegal and Irregular Allocation of Public Land released in 2004 made references to Mr Kiplagat's acquisition of public land illegally. In another allegation, a Parliamentary Select Committee of Inquiry into the murder of former Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko chaired by former Kisumu Town East MP Gor Sungu concluded that he was untruthful.

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