KNHCR calls for operationalization of National Coroners Service Act

Counties Editor's Pick Kilifi Social

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has called for the operationalization of the National Coroners Service Act 2017 in order to provide a coordinated approach to tragedies like the Shakahola one.

In a statement read by Commissioner Prof.  Marion Mutugi in Malindi Thursday, the commission said there was need to understand what really happened at Shahakola, hence the need for the formation of the National Coroners Service under the Act to perform the co-ordination function.

Mutugi said the Service, to be headed by the Coroner General, would be able to guide various institutions involved in getting to the bottom of such tragedies.

She said institutions handling the Shakahola tragedy, which include the police, National Government Administration, government pathologists, Government Chemist, the Senate and the National Assembly had so far done a commendable job, but noted that more could have been achieved with better coordination.

“We note that there is need for a coordinated approach to understand what really happened at Shakahola. Even better, a single agency endowed with the requisite skills and entrusted with such function would be ideal. This, we believe, is what was envisioned and provided for in the National Coroners Service Act of 217,” she said.

The Act provides for the investigation of reportable deaths in order to determine the identities of the deceased persons, the times and dates of their deaths, and the manner and causes of their deaths.

It also provides for the complementary role of forensic medical science services to the police in handling investigations involving bodies and scene management, as well as matters relating to exhumation of bodies at the order of the courts and pursuant to other written laws.

The law, if operationalized, will also make it a mandatory requirement to report deaths, establish the procedure for investigations as well as assist in policy formulation by advising the government, by forensic study, on possible measures to help to prevent deaths from similar causes.

The commission at the same time called on the government to review its priorities and focus more on rescuing survivors of the tragedy by instilling confidence in the survivors to come out of the forest without fearing that they will be treated as Mackenzie’s accomplices.

Prof. Mutugi noted that many victims could be retreating deeper into the forest for fear that they will be arrested and charged alongside the Good News International Church minister accused of influencing his followers to fast to death.

She said the commission was saddened to observe that operations so far have focused on exhumation of the dead rather than rescue of the living, noting that reports reaching the commission suggest that there are many people who are still living in the forest due to fear of arrest.

“We recommend that there is a review of priority to focus on rescue of the living. In this regard, we call for a strategy that facilitates saving the lives of the radicalized and indoctrinated persons still in the forest. This should involve allaying their fears that they will be treated as survivors and not suspects,’’ she said.

The commission commended government and nongovernmental actors who have provided counselling and other psycho-social support to the survivors and families of lost persons and encouraged continued and enhanced services.

Noting that religious practices such as fasting and self-denial do not extend to children, the commission called upon all religious organizations to with one voice condemn the practice of self-harm in the name of spirituality.

This, the commission said, would help in de-radicalization of those that are radicalized and indoctrinated.

The commission also called for urgent investigations, by the national police service, of reports that there may be other radicalized communities in other areas of the country such as the Vumbo forest in Kwale County.

The commission called on relevant government agencies to provide security to survivors in hospitals and rescue homes to ensure their safety because they may have information that is useful for the resolution of the Shakahola tragedy.

By Emmanuel Masha and Lucy Karanja


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