US professor quits Kenyan truth commission, citing lack of confidence

American law professor Ronald Slye resigned from the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission this week after saying he 'lost faith' in its abilities to succeed.

Kenya’s search for national healing after its deadly post-election violence was further stalled this week with the resignation of an American law professor from a top-level reconciliation panel.

Ronald Slye, a program director at the University of Seattle’s School of Law, said he had “lost faith” in the ability of the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) “to fulfill even a small part of its mandate."

The board was set up after Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General, brokered peace between Kenya's rival politicians whose supporters killed at least 1,500 people following the 2007 presidential election.

This is the only domestic attempt to highlight those responsible for that violence, as well as also uncover misdemeanors carried out by the country’s political elite since independence from Britain in 1963.

'Forever tarnished'

However, the board has lost credibility here and abroad because of ongoing concerns that its chairman, Bethuel Kiplagat, is biased in favor of the government, Mr. Slye said in his resignation letter published Friday.

Those concerns have stalled funding from international donors, according to Slye, meaning that the commission can barely continue to function. Currently it faces a $14 million shortfall in its 2010 budget request of $16 million.

“After six months of waiting for the credibility issues around the chairman to be resolved, and in the face of minimal financial and other support ... my confidence that the commission will be able to make any meaningful headway … is diminishing,” Slye wrote. “It is clear to me … that without those issues being addressed in a timely fashion, the commission will continue to be seriously hindered, and its report and recommendations, no matter how well supported and reasoned, will forever be tarnished by that failure.”

Kiplagat linked to killings

This is a serious blow to an organization modeled on South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to which Slye was a consultant.

Kiplagat, a former ambassador to Britain, has been accused of links to the killings of dozens of Somali Muslims in northern Kenya in 1984, in what is known as the Wagalla Massacre. Those accusations, and Kiplagat’s lack of clarity on his involvement, “further lessen my confidence," wrote Slye, the only non-African on the eight-member commission.

Kiplagat is also accused of illegal land allocations when he was a minister in the government of former President Daniel arap Moi.

He denies all the allegations, and had refused to step aside, even when pressed to do so by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who headed South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Truth Commission 'slowly dying'

Njonjo Mue, the head of the International Center for Transitional Justice in Kenya, has said the TJRC was “paralyzed and slowly bleeding."

“So we find ourselves in a situation where one of the critical pillars of transitional justice has become a joke,” he told Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.

Many Kenyans have expressed little confidence in the TJRC to come up with a credible report. Its mandate expires in November 2011.

Most eyes are instead on the International Criminal Court and its expected prosecutions of key figures said to have orchestrated the post-election violence.

However, Kenya’s government Friday expressed its full support for the TJRC, and blamed international bodies for failing to stump up cash.

“Donors should stop waiting,” said Mutula Kilonzo, minister for Justice, Cohesion, and Constitutional affairs. “If you want to support the transitional justice process you should fund this commission. Stop looking at the individuals in the commission but at the institution and help us establish the necessary capacity and institutional framework required for its success.”

The commission’s vice-chair, Betty Murungi, resigned in April, also over disagreements with Kiplagat.

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