Well, things did not take long in the new year to get interesting. Bethuel Kiplagat, the Chair of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) of Kenya, went into his office, sat down, read a paper, and demanded that his employees gather up some reports for him. Does that sound so bad?
Well, read this, this, and this.
Kiplagat, known as a human rights defender of some repute over the last few decades, was properly appointed the Chair of the TJRC when it was first created back in 2008. Almost immediately, complaints began to surface about his appointment and other allegations started to arise. There are allegations that he was involved in the Wagalla massacre in 1984. There have been allegations of inappropriate land deals that he brokered, as well as suggestions that he misappropriated funds. At that stage, they were simply allegations, but given that he was to head one of the largest Commissions aimed at providing the Kenyan people with some form of justice and healing over past human rights abuses, you can imagine that even the faintest sniff that he may have been involved in human rights abuses of his own has serious implications to the credibility of the TJRC.
Initially, he denied the claims and refused to act on these complaints, but after some discussion he agreed to step aside. A tribunal was formed to look into these allegations, which Kiplagat said he would comply with. However, shortly after the tribunal was formed, he lodged a civil action in the Kenyan High Court, challenging the tribunals ability to look into his past, claiming that only 'current' issues from the time of his appointment were relevant. Obviously, that delayed the whole process.
Eventually (and this is two year after the TJRC was formed), the TJRC moved on, and began to do its work without him. Of course, this whole time, since he had merely stepped aside and not resigned, Kipligat was still receiving his monthly pay cheque. More importantly, though, the TJRC had lost a significant amount of time, and a significant amount of support and credibility.
As for the tribunal - because of the delays associated with the matter being moved to the High Court, the lifespan of the tribunal expired. And because the tribunal expired, it looks like Kiplagat thinks that he is free to return to work.With Kiplagat showing back up for work, it is again throwing the TJRC process and the work that they are doing under the radar, while people focus on the actions of the Chair.
ICJ Kenya, along with partner organizations called the Kenyan Transitional Justice Network, had some strong things to say about the matter (read more here), as did other major actors (read here).
There is a tangible and real sense that there are 'forces of impunity' at work, who are attempting to scuttle the TJRC process, which is just entering a critical stage, with its final report due in May 2012. The TJRC has done incredible work to uncover the truths behind some of the skeletons in Kenya's past. Let's hope that distractions like Kiplagat don't work to keep them in the closet.