Friday, July 22, 2022, NAIROBI, Kenya — One of the casework focuses of IJM Kenya is combating police abuse of power in the country, and on June 23, 2016, IJM human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, IJM client Josephat Mwenda and trusted driver Joseph Muiruri were tragically the victims of the same police abuse that they were striving to combat.
Today, after almost six years of delays in trial proceedings, 3 police officers and a civilian have been found guilty and convicted of killing Kimani, Mwenda, and Muiruri. This is a significant moment for police accountability in Kenya, demonstrating that the tide is turning against impunity for perpetrators of Kenyan police abuse.
The victims were abducted in 2016 while leaving court where Kimani was accompanying IJM client Mwenda, who had been shot and falsely accused by police.
In 2015, Mwenda, a Kenyan motorcycle taxi driver, was stopped and shot by a police officer, who subsequently attempted to cover up the shooting and bring unsubstantiated and false charges against Mwenda, including drug possession, gambling, and resisting arrest, amongst other charges. Willie Kimani, a human rights lawyer working for International Justice Mission, recommended that IJM take his case.
On June 23, 2016, when leaving court, Mwenda, Kimani, and their driver, Joseph Muiruri, were abducted. A week later, the bodies of the three men were discovered in a river, over 100km away from where the men were abducted. Five people, including four police officers, were charged with murder — but the trial, which began in November 2016, has faced numerous delays and adjournments. Evidence included DNA samples, a chilling confession statement by one of the accused individuals, CCTV footage, and mobile phone data analysis.
Police abuse of power and delayed justice are widespread in Kenya, with public confidence in police very low. In 2021 alone, the Missing Voices coalition has recorded a total of 219 cases of police killings and enforced disappearances. It is still highly challenging to get cases to trial, let alone through to the point of conviction. Today, four of the five accused persons in this case have been convicted of the murders, with one police officer acquitted.
The families of victims have reacted with joy and relief at today’s long-awaited verdict. It is an important indicator of positive change. Prior to 2016, few police officers had ever been convicted for murder in Kenya, but in the past five years, at least 45 officers have been convicted on murder or manslaughter charges, demonstrating that Kenya’s justice system is capable of delivering justice in cases of police abuse of power.
Hannah Kimani, Willie Kimani's widow, said that the verdict was "a source of comfort to our hearts, even though it may not bring Kimani back....at least Kimani will not be included in the statistics of people who went through torture, went to abduction, tortured and killed without getting justice."
Benson Shamala, Country Director of IJM Kenya, said: “Today justice has been served. It has been a long journey. We hope this will bring closure and solace to the family, friends, and colleagues of victims. Although it has taken a long time, we are happy that through this trial, we have seen that the justice system can deliver justice for victims and families. We are encouraged that the Chief Justice is pushing for fast-tracking of cases to end case backlogs. We support her call that cases should be concluded within three years.”
Gary Haugen, CEO of International Justice Mission, said: “When our colleague and friends were violently murdered in 2016, we could have decided that the dangers of continuing this work were too high. But instead, six years later, I am proud that IJM and partners have made such significant progress in ensuring police accountability. Today, we have taken an important step forward, but much more remains to be done. In memory of Willie, Joseph, and Josephat, we will continue to work towards a Kenya that is safer for all its people.”
This shift towards greater police accountability in this case is thanks to the strong advocacy of the Police Reform Working Group, Missing Voices Coalition, and Justice Centers and the dedicated work of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA), Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), Witness Protection Agency (WPA), and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI)
About International Justice Mission:
International Justice Mission is a global organization that protects people in poverty from violence. IJM partners with local authorities in 27 program offices in 15 countries to combat slavery, violence against women and children, and other forms of abuse against people who are poor. IJM works to rescue and restore victims, hold perpetrators accountable, and help strengthen public justice systems. Learn more at IJM.org.
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Notes to the editor:
- A May 2019 report from the Kenyan Independent Policing Oversight Authority [IPOA] found that 46.2% of respondents had been victims of at least one form of police abuse (source: IPOA Endline Survey Report 2019).
- Since the establishment of IPOA in 2011, it has received 20,979 complaints related to police misconduct — yet only 3,437 investigations have been completed and 17 convictions made (source: IPOA Performance Report July-December 2021.)
- IJM Kenya said in a statement: ‘No one should go through what our friends Willie Kimani, Joseph Muiruri and Josephat Mwenda went through and especially from the very people mandated to protect them. Willie, Joseph and Josephat met their untimely death while courageously pursuing justice and seeking accountability for excessive use of force by our law enforcement agents. This ferocious act has brought to the fore the reality of rampant violations of human rights and served as the nudge for nationwide discussion on the limits of police power.’