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Press Release: KNCHR Calls For A Coordinated Approach in Resolving The Shakahola Tragedy

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

Press Statement: Malindi, Thursday 11th May, 2023   For Immediate Release:

KNCHR Calls For A Coordinated Approach in Resolving The Shakahola Tragedy

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights wishes to condole with the family and

friends of those who have lost their lives or those whose loved ones are missing in the Shakahola tragedy. The Commission wishes to commend all those who have continued to ensure that people are rescued and bodies are exhumed, identified and re-united with their families. The multi-agency team led by officers from the Ministry of Interior and National Administration have played a commendable role and KNCHR applauds the ongoing effort. The Commission, particularly want to appreciate Civil Society Organizations and people of this community who played the important role of whistleblowing and continue to assist in resolution of this matter.

The mandate of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights is to promote and protect human rights of all Kenyans. In this regard, KNCHR has been monitoring the situation and wish to state the following:

  1. The Constitution provides that in the performance of activities, State agencies should conduct themselves in a manner that is transparent and accountable to the people who are sovereign. Article 73 provides the responsibility placed on State agencies invokes accountability to bring about public confidence. Although the various agencies may have performed their duties with diligence, they have not consistently operated in a manner that elicits confidence. Of particular note are restrictions on access by non-State actors such as Civil Society Organizations, media and members of the surrounding communities in the identification of graves, exhumation and identification of bodies at autopsy.

KNCHR notes an improvement of this situation that is currently allowing some access and encourage continuity to provide the transparency and verification required to elicit confidence and overcome misinformation. More can be done in providing and supplying platforms for access to information especially for the families on tracing, psychosocial amenities available and feedback.


  1. It is saddening to observe that operations so far may have focused in exhumation of the dead rather than rescue of the living. Reports suggest that there are still persons who in fear of the arrest, have retreated deeper into the forest.

KNCHR recommends that there is a review of priority to focus on rescue of the living. In this regard, the Commission calls upon a strategy that facilities saving the lives of radicalized persons still in the forest. This should involve allaying their fears that they will be treated as survivors and not suspects.

  1. Article 28 of the constitution states; that every person has inherent dignity that should be respected and protected. Indeed, Article 10 further states; that dignity of all persons is a fundamental national value. To this end, KNCHR calls upon all operations be conducted in a manner that will bring dignity to the deceased. Identification of all bodies to allow dignified interment consistent with varying religious and cultural rights is crucial.
  1. Article 43 states that; every person has the right to the highest standards of health. The Commission notes that it is likely that the Shakahola tragedy has resulted in extensive psychological trauma. The mental wellbeing of many is at stake. These include: persons rescued; family and friends of the missing or the deceased; persons involved in rescue, exhumation and identification; the surrounding community and indeed even those that are media audience and viewers.

In this respect, KNCHR commends the State and non-State actors who have provided some counselling and other psychosocial support and encourage continued and enhance services. KNCHR urges all persons to continue applying the principle of ‘do no harm’ in their interventions and reporting.

  1. Article 32 of the Constitution provides freedom of conscience, religion and belief. KNCHR however, observes that this freedom does not extend to situations where the right to life is under threat. Fasting is a common feature encouraged by various religions but we note that there is no religion that propagates this to the point of death. In addition, such religious practices of self-denial do not ever extend to children.

The Commission calls upon leaders of religious organizations, be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu or others with one voice to condemn this practice of self-harm in the name of spirituality. This will help in the de-radicalization of the radicalized.

KNCHR also calls upon the urgent investigation by the National Police through the DCI of reports that there may be radicalization in other communities in other areas such as; Vumbo forest in Kwale County. Timely action will prevent similar tragedies.


  1. The Commission commends the use of technology in the operations at Shakahola.

The Commission hereby encourages continued and enhanced use of DNA technology in identification of bodies, drone and other Geographic information systems (GIS) technology in mapping of settlements for rescue of persons in the forest.

  1. Survivors of this tragedy are in hospitals and also graciously hosted in various private rescue homes. KNCHR notes that these persons may have information that would help to unravel this tragedy and may even act as witnesses.

In this regard, KNCHR calls upon the relevant Government agencies to provide adequate security to ensure their safety and documentation of information they have. Furthermore, KNCHR calls upon all people of goodwill to support these private institutions with resources to continue with this good work.

The Constitution of Kenya in Article 53 and the children’s’ Act 2022 elaborate that the best interest of the child as the overall consideration in ensuring access to food, protection from negligent and cruel treatment and the right to free compulsory basic education. Our young generation is at threat and all efforts must be made not to lose them. This must never happen again. KNCHR proposes the initiation of proactive mechanisms and programs in formal and informal learning spaces.

  1. There are many institutions involved in getting to the bottom of this tragedy. This includes the police, the National Government Administration Officers (NGAO), government pathologists and chemists, Senate and National Parliament; as well as the newly appointed Commission on inquiry.

There is need for a coordinated approach to understand what really happened at Shakahola. Even better, a single agency endowed with requisite skills and entrusted with such function would be ideal. This is what is envisioned and provided for in the National Coroners Service Act 2017. The Shakahola tragedy brings to fore the importance and urgency of National Coroners Service Act. We hereby call upon the operationalization of this act.

In conclusion the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights reminds all that Article 26 of the Constitution of Kenya states that every person has the right to life. In this regard, it is the role of Government to ensure safety and security of all persons. This should protection even against themselves in the preservation of life.

Inarguably in the Shakahola tragedy, there were gaps leading to deaths of 145 persons to date and still counting. It is evidently clear, there has been failure and lapse of government machinery to protect its citizens.

In this regard, KNCHR calls upon the mandated Government agencies to identify persons in the security agencies, regional administration or other agencies under whose watch there were acts of omission or commission leading to this tragedy. Kenyans expect that the planners and implementers of these heinous human rights abuses will be investigated and prosecuted without fear of favour. The Commission, once again emphasizes that all persons, State or non-State complicit in allowing this to continue must be brought to account. This will not only ensure justice is done, but prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Finally, the Commission calls on anyone with information and human rights concerns relating to the mass killings in the Shakahola area to share through SMS-22359, Email- complaint@knchr.org and Toll-Free Line 0800 720 627.


Roseline DA Odede


Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

Categories: Press Statements
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