Enforced disappearances leave families in agony

Lawyer Abby Mogoi

Lawyer Abby Mogoi in a demo organised by right’s groups  in Nairobi on November 10, 2021 against extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“The disappearance of my son has ruined my life. I feel like I lost my mind but I have come to accept that they killed him. I have no hope of getting any help from the government because they knew all along what was happening,” Ms Helen Wairimu tells the Sunday Nation.

Her son, Wilson Mwangi, was among more than 20 men who were abducted in Mt Kenya region between June and October last year. Mwangi was grabbed on the evening of June 27 in Naromoru.

More than a year later, the whereabouts of the men remain unknown, with no answers forthcoming from investigators. Hopes of ever finding them alive have dwindled over time.

This week, the world marked the international day for victims of enforced disappearance. But as the world celebrated the day, for families of the missing men, it meant nothing.

“I did not even know such a day existed. Even yet, there has been no progress in investigations into my husband’s disappearance. We have tried all means to find them or why they were taken but we are not getting any answers,” Ms Phoebe Muthoni told the Sunday Nation.

Her husband was abducted on June 27 at Kianjogu in Ndaragwa in the full glare of their daughter and herself as they were travelling to Nyahururu for a family outing.

The abductions were said to have been linked to covert operations against poaching that saw two senior game rangers executed.

Former head of security at Solio conservancy Bajila Kofa was shot dead – execution-style in August – shortly after dropping his daughter at school in Meru.

Three days before his killing, Francis Oyaro, a senior Kenya Wildlife Services intelligence officer based in Marsabit, had been abducted outside Naromoru Police Station in Nyeri.

His body was found in River Yalla earlier this year following a gruesome discovery of several bodies believed to be victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Ms Muthoni and four other families last year sought legal redress through a habeas corpus application at the High Court in Nyeri pushing to have the government compelled to produce their kin either dead or alive.

The kin of Mr Isaac Mwangi, Bernard Wanjohi, Samuel Ngacha, Wilson Wairimu and Elijah Karimi, who were kidnapped in separate incidences, moved to court in July last year accusing the state of orchestrating the enforced disappearances.

Police and KWS personnel were linked to the abduction of the five and at least 14 other men but they denied their involvement.

In the application at the High Court, the families, through lawyer Muhoho Gichimu, claimed that their relatives were taken by personnel from the three security agencies owing to how the abductions were conducted.

High Court judge Justice Florence Muchemi ordered security agencies to reply to the application that sought to have the state reveal the whereabouts of their kin. While responding to the suit, the KWS denied involvement in the abductions.

A replying affidavit written by KWS corporation secretary Doreen Mutunga showed that KWS officers did not conduct operations in Nyeri and Nyandarua counties in the period between June 27 and June 30, when and where the men are said to have been abducted.

Suspects who are arrested by KWS for committing a wildlife offence, Ms Mutunga said, are normally booked at the nearest police station.

“If at all the persons were in the custody of KWS then we would have already arraigned them in court as required by law,” reads the affidavit by the KWS representative.

However, a year later, Inspector-General of Police and the head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations are yet to respond to the matter despite a court order to do so.

Mr Muhoho, the lawyer for the families, filed an affidavit of service before the court as proof that the government agencies have received the application.

An affidavit of service dated July 27, 2021 shows that the court documents were received by the DCI headquarters and the Office of the National Police Service.

Representatives of the DCI and IG have appeared in court for the suit only once, on September 30, 2021. During that session, through the Attorney-General, the duo requested 21 days to file their response to the application. But the court’s file shows that they are yet to reply to date. When the matter was last mentioned on July 26, the DCI and IG were absent.

The court ordered the family’s lawyer to serve the KWS, DCI and IG with a mention notice of the next court date citing that there is a possibility that they are not aware of the court dates.

Some of the families have since expressed fear for their safety claiming they were threatened to stop following up on the matter and looking for their kin.

“People were sent to deliver messages to us that if we continue following up the case or speak about it, we would disappear too. That is why most of us have not come forward for DNA analyses to try and establish if our sons were among bodies found in Garissa and River Yala,” a relative of one of the victims told the Nation.

Many Kenyan families are grappling with incessant cases of enforced disappearance, with the government dragging its feet on ratification of a United Nations (UN) treaty against the crime.

Kenya is a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was adopted by the United Nations on December 23, 2010.

The treaty established international laws against state-sanctioned abductions and torture, and countries that are signatories to it were expected to adopt the provisions of the treaty in their respective laws.

Kenya is, however, yet to ratify the convention close to 12 years later in what activists view as blatant non-commitment to end rising cases of enforced disappearance, extra judicial killings and human rights violations in the hands of the state.

“It is very clear that the government is not ready to be held accountable on cases of enforced disappearance and that is why it is unwilling to adopt some of these laws,” Independent Medico-Legal Unit director Peter Kiama said.