The President’s third State of the Nation Address marked a pivotal turning point in Kenya’s transitional justice agenda. Acknowledging our tragic history of mass human rights violations, the President:

  • Called for Parliament to process the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report;
  • Instructed the Treasury to establish a fund of Kenya Shillings 10 billion for restorative justice and;
  • Took the unprecedented step of making an apology on his own behalf, that of his government and on behalf of all past governments for historical violations.

This is arguably the boldest political commitment to addressing historical injustices in recent memory. However more must be done if it is to prove meaningful to victims. The President must exert his political influence on Parliament to ensure they enact a comprehensive implementation framework for the TJRC report. The framework must respond to all findings and recommendations of the report, ensure the full participation and consultation of victims, maintain transparency in its operations and have accountability to the public on the progress made in implementing the report. As party leader of the majority Jubilee Coalition in Parliament, the President must ensure that the parliamentary debate does not lead to editing of the TJRC report or mutilation of its findings and recommendations.

The President’s embrace of restorative justice is indeed welcome but requires clarity. The proposed fund though necessary, must be based on a clear understanding of who the victims are and what their needs are. We would urge the President to commit to the reparations policy outlined in the TJRC report as the basis for utilizing this fund. The reparations policy identifies restoring the dignity of victims as a key objective, outlines the types of reparation and provides a categorization of victims that allows for a systematic and realistic approach to processing claims. Lessons must be learnt from past experiences such as Operation Rudi Nyumbani.

The apology offered by the President is a significant step forward but must be owned by all State organs, especially those the TJRC report has called on to apologize specifically alongside the President such as the Kenya Defence Forces and Kenya Police Service. More needs to be done to specifically recognize the various victim groups and their experiences through memorialization as part of the reconciliation process. The apology must translate into a reflection on the progress made in reforming State institutions previously accused of committing human rights violations. Are we assured of non-repetition and a change in the moral character of these institutions as the apology suggests?

The President has reawakened a yearning for justice among victims of Kenya’s historical injustices and invited the Kenyan public to imagine that true reconciliation and cohesion is indeed possible in our lifetimes. KHRC will remain vigilant in ensuring that the government maintains fidelity to the restoration of dignity to victims that embraces the approach of “nothing for us without us”. Restorative justice exercises a sacred trust with victims that must not be betrayed. END

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