Faltering Promises: President Ruto’s First Year Marred by Human Rights Failures

By Sarah Nyakio

In a momentous event on September 13, 2022, Dr. William Samoei Ruto took the oath of office as Kenya’s fifth President, ushering in a new era of leadership in the Republic of Kenya. During his inauguration, President Ruto made a solemn commitment to enhance the recognition, promotion, and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for every citizen in the nation.

Fast forward to September 14, 2023, and we find ourselves commemorating the one-year anniversary of President Ruto’s presidency. This occasion provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the journey Kenya has embarked upon under his leadership, a journey marked by promises of change and progress.

One of the crucial metrics by which any government is judged is its ability to fulfil the pledges made in party manifestos and policy pronouncements. In this context, we scrutinize the performance of President Ruto’s administration, focusing particularly on governance, fundamental rights, and the administration of justice. The overarching question is whether this government has lived up to its commitments.

Positive Developments:

Firstly, the appointment of a senior pathologist stands as a beacon of hope for improved investigations into reportable deaths. It signals a genuine commitment to enhancing the justice system and ensuring that those responsible for such heinous acts are brought to justice. However, it’s imperative to emphasize that the complete implementation of the Coroner General’s Office is still pending.

Secondly, the government has made notable progress in preparing the human resources instruments necessary for the appointment of the Coroner General, demonstrating a proactive approach to the much-needed reforms.

Thirdly, the commitment shown by the government in resolving all judgments and orders against it within a 60-day timeframe deserves applause. Key actions include the appointment of Court of Appeal judges and facilitating the return of Miguna Miguna.

Fourthly, a significant step towards a more accountable and just system was taken with the disbandment of the Special Service Unit (SSU), a move widely viewed as a step in the right direction.

Fifthly, the establishment of a task force on police and prison reforms, led by retired Chief Justice David Maraga, signalled a promising effort to create a more dignified work environment for law enforcement officers, fostering a culture of respect for human rights.

Finally, efforts to grant the National Police Service financial independence by appointing a Principal Administrative Secretary (PAS) as the accounting officer represent a pivotal move towards ensuring autonomy and minimizing undue influence.

Challenges and Disappointments:

Perhaps the most pressing issue has been the deterioration in democratic policing and the protection of human rights. Over the past year, the freedom of assembly, association, expression, and media freedom have faced unprecedented threats, raising concerns about the state of democracy and civil liberties in Kenya.

Worryingly, there has been a significant upswing in cases of torture and related violations (TRVs), with a staggering 482 cases documented from October 2022 to August 2023. This number represents more than double the cases reported in the preceding year, indicating a disturbing trend of increased abuse of power, including excessive and illegal use of force.

Equally troubling is the fact that the majority of TRV victims/survivors fall within the young adult demographic, aged 18-35, underscoring a failure to protect urban youth from police brutality, as was promised.

Despite promises to end extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and enhance police oversight through institutions like the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), data reveals a disheartening trend.

Oversight institutions like IPOA have not received the prioritization they require, and the promised ombudsman to monitor human rights violations remains conspicuously absent. Additionally, instances where law enforcement violations are praised, coupled with shoot-to-kill orders, exacerbate an already critical situation.

Accountability remains a key concern. Police reluctance to record complaints from victims of police abuse, a failure to report injuries and deaths to IPOA as mandated by law, denial of Occurrence Book numbers and P3 Forms, and the absence of investigations into police misconduct all contribute to a culture of impunity and undermine the rule of law.

The disbandment of the Special Service Unit (SSU), while commendable, has not seen cases against its members progress as expected. This raises serious questions about accountability and the effectiveness of measures taken.

Moreover, the decision to transfer the responsibility for addressing enforced disappearances back to IPOA is a disappointing development. While IPOA plays a vital role in police oversight, its jurisdiction does not extend to all perpetrators, especially those from other agencies like the military, Kenya Forest Service, and Kenya Wildlife Service, when they are not operating under police command.

In addition, compliance with court rulings has been inconsistent. While progress has been made in some areas, the non-operationalization of key legislations, disregard for court rulings, and actions undermining the rule of law continue to be a source of concern.

Finally, the establishment of a task force on police and prison reforms, though promising, has seen delays in delivering its much-anticipated report, leaving critical reform efforts hanging in the balance.

In conclusion, President Ruto’s first year in office has been marked by both commendable progress and notable challenges. It is imperative that the government continues to prioritize the protection and enjoyment of fundamental human rights as an inherent right for all citizens.

To achieve this, the government should recognize and support investigative and oversight institutions, establish the Coroner General’s Office, create a special tribunal for gross human rights violations, ratify international conventions, operationalize key legislations, and ensure the financial independence of the National Police Service.