On 30 June 2016, some 300 civil society representatives and other protesters filled the central business district of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to demand justice for the enforced disappearance of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri. Beginning at Uhuru Park, the protest stopped at the Supreme Court Building, City Hall, before ending at the office of the Inspector General of Police. There the protestors petitioned the Inspector General of Police for information on the men’s fate and whereabouts. They all wore white t-shirts stained red with “blood”. Some carried placards bearing pictures of “the Mavoko Three” named after the court where they were last seen. Others carried empty coffins bearing the words “[A]re Kenyans the enemy of the State?” They chanted in unison for justice and blew on vuvuzelas, drawing in onlookers and bringing activity in the city to a temporary halt. The sheer magnitude of the protest brought the systemic problem of extrajudicial killings in Kenya to the consciousness of Nairobi and the world.
A year later, civil society has mobilized again to remember the three and make sure that their deaths were not in vain.
Who were the “Mavoko Three”?
Lawyer Willie Kimani, his client, Josephat Mwenda and their taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri, were abducted by members of Kenya’s Administration Police and subsequently were extrajudicially executed. The three were last seen as they left Mavoko Law Courts, in Machakos County, on 23 June
2016. On 1 July their bodies were recovered from Ol-Donyo Sabuk River with their arms tied behind their back and bearing signs of torture including chopped-off fingers, gouged out eyeballs, and head trauma.
Willie Kimani was born on 21 April 1984 in Kiambu County, Central Kenya. A human rights lawyer, he dedicated his career to protecting victims of violence and to ending impunity for officials, who have perpetrated human rights violations instead of upholding their sworn duty to protect and serve. He also worked on women’s rights, the release of political prisoners, governance and policing oversight. Willie Kimani joined the International Justice Mission (IJM) in Nairobi as a field investigator, a position he held until he was killed. He was in court representing Josephat Mwenda on the day he disappeared.
Josephat Mwenda was born in 1989 in Tharaka-Nithi County in the country’s east. He was a motorcycle taxi rider. Josephat was a client of the IJM from 4 February 2016. On 10 April 2015, two police officers stopped the motorcycle he was riding and reportedly shot him in the arm without provocation. Josephat reported the incident to the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA), a body that provides civilian oversight of policing. From that point he faced persistent threats and intimidation from the police. He was charged with possessing drugs, gambling in public and resisting arrest. In his efforts to get justice and accountability he was brutally killed by security agents.
Joseph Muiruri was born on 19 April 1989 in Nyandarua County, Central Kenya. He was a taxi driver used by IJM staff for their day-to-day activities. This frequently included trips to court. On 23 June 2016, he had driven Willie Kimani and Josephat Mwenda to court. He died doing his job and earning a living.
Their memories live on through our actions
At the time of the killings, the Law Society of Kenya hired a private pathologist who carried out a post-mortem examination of the bodies. The evidence gathered led to three members of the Administration
Police being arrested and charged with involvement in the killings. The court case is still ongoing.
The public outcry, supported by civil society, increased awareness about enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions in Kenya. Willie Kimani was named 2016 Jurist of the Year by the International Commission of Jurists – Kenya.
A year later, civil society organisations have mobilized again, organizing tributes, events and activities in, and around, Nairobi to mark the anniversary of the killings. The Police Reform Working Group (PRWG), drawn from 13 governance and human rights organizations, has held community dialogues in Nairobi’s slums, to create more awareness and give communities a platform to share their stories of extrajudicial killings. A vigil will be held in memory of Willie, Josephat and Joseph on 23 June 2017.
Today we shine a light on the bravery of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda, and Joseph Muiruri, who lost their lives brutally and unnecessarily safeguarding human rights while seeking justice and accountability.
Source: Amnesty International Kenya
Author: Amina Hersi