Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and a group of nine other former heads and members of national truth commissions, have urged Bethuel Kiplagat to resign as the head of Kenya's Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
Dr Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and chairperson of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in a statement sent to Ecumenical News International in Nairobi that retired diplomat Kiplagat does not meet the essential standards for a person in that post.
"We are deeply troubled by serious allegations of bias and misconduct that have been made against chairperson Kiplagat," said Tutu in the statement delivered recently on behalf of the 10 former truth commissioners, most of them from South Africa.
Critics of Kiplagat have noted accusations that he and others on the Kenyan commission are linked to human rights abuses during the period the commission will investigate.
Kiplagat had defended himself, saying he is qualified to serve since he helped in efforts to broker peace in countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda.
A former deputy General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, Kiplagat has been involved in World Council of Churches' peace efforts in Africa. He served as Kenya's ambassador to France in 1978, and was envoy to Britain from 1981 to 1983.
Tutu's statement read, "The allegations about his [Kiplagat's] role in the former Moi government have generated a widely-held perception that he labours under an unavoidable conflict of interest, and that he is unable to bring an impartial mind to bear on his important duties as TJRC chairperson."
In July 2009, President Mwai Kibaki appointed Kiplagat to head the truth and reconciliation commission, which began its sittings in Kenya's coastal region in January. Although the commission is expected to uncover the truth about historical injustices, political assassinations and the plundering of national resources since independence in 1963, its work has been hampered by calls on its chairperson to stand down.
Civil society groups argue that Kiplagat was a top foreign ministry official during the rule of former president Daniel arap Moi, when the army massacred Somali Muslims in northern Kenya in 1984. He was also an official there when his boss, the then foreign minister Robert Ouko, was killed.
The commission was also tasked to deal with the post-election violence which afflicted Kenya from late December 2007 to January 2008 after a poll that opposition parties said was rigged.
Tutu's statement said, "All truth commissioners must be seen to be upholding the highest standards of ethics and integrity. They need to be seen to be scrupulously independent and objective." The statement adds, "We note that truth commissions must enjoy the confidence of the public to succeed."
Among the signatories are Methodist Bishop Joseph Christian Humper, former chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone, and Salomon Lerner Febres, former chairperson of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and former president of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]