The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) pursuant to its constitutional mandate of promoting and protecting Human Rights in Kenya embarked on a monitoring exercise from March 2023 to date on the Shakahola Tragedy. This exercise was prompted by the mainstream media reports broadcast from March 25th, 2023, which detailed the shocking findings of numerous individuals buried in shallow graves within Shakahola Forest, part of Chakama Ranch in Kilifi County near Malindi Town. The unprecedented discovery was linked to a religious sect led by Pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie.

The Commission's objective in monitoring the tragedy was to ensure transparency, accountability, and justice for the survivors and victims' families. The Commission also sought to ensure that the government and all other actors employ a Human Rights Based Approach in all its actions related to uncovering the Shakahola Tragedy. To achieve this, the Commission conducted thorough monitoring and investigations, including site visits, prison inspections, engagements with stakeholders, and interviews with victims and survivors, among other crucial strategies.

A) Findings:
After more than eleven (11) months of monitoring and investigation, the Commission established as follows:

1. The Good News International Ministries was founded in 2003 by Pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie. It was officially registered by the Registrar of Societies as a Ministry in 2010 with Mackenzie as the Chairperson, along with five other officials.

2. In 2012, the Ministry registered Good News Media (K) Limited (Times TV), a broadcasting company located in Malindi.

3. In 2019 the Ministry relocated to Shakahola ranch where people were lured by the promise of cheap and affordable arable land. The influx intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic period in 2020.

4. Upon relocating the Ministry from Malindi to Shakahola, intense indoctrination and radicalization by declaring a fasting regime that would culminate in the ascension to heaven of the followers was effected. The children were to be the first to die, followed by women, then the men, and finally, Pastor Mackenzie who was to ascend to heaven from the center of Malindi in August 2023.

5. Armed militia (both male and female) who supervised and enforced the fasting and eventual death of the followers were recruited. The militia were responsible for digging shallow graves where those who succumbed to starvation were buried. The Commission received reports that those who defied the directive of fasting or attempted to escape were either strangled or clobbered to death by the militia.

6. People’s vulnerabilities were exploited, and they were convinced to dispose of their earthly possessions and give the proceeds to the Ministry. After being dispossessed of their livelihoods and life savings, the followers were persuaded to destroy their vital documents such as Birth Certificates, National Identity Cards, Passports, Title Deeds, Academic documents, and Marriage certificates. The followers were intentionally isolated from their relatives and the rest of the society by confining them in the desolate Shakahola wilderness which had no telephone connectivity, transport infrastructure, or social services such as schools and hospitals.

7. Between 17th March 2017 and the unfolding of this tragedy in March 2023, MacKenzie and some of the Ministry officials had been arrested three times for offences ranging from, failing to provide children with education; radicalization and offering education in an unauthorized institution; Incitement to disobedience of the law; Possession and distribution of unauthorized films; and operating a films studio without a valid license.

8. Between 25th April, 2023 and October 2023, the Government conducted a search and rescue operation while simultaneously exhuming bodies from various mass graves. At the end of the exercise, a total of 429 bodies were exhumed, 67 adult persons, and 25 children were rescued.

B) Key Observations by the Commission.
i. It is deplorable to note that Mackenzie was first arrested in 2017 and charged with radicalization, promoting extreme beliefs, and failing to provide children with education, and finally released under Section 210. This points to a failure in the investigation and prosecution processes. The arrest should have triggered investigations that would have saved the lives of several people. This also amounts to violating the Rights of Children.

ii. The Commission faults the then security team in Malindi for gross abdication of duty and negligence. They not only failed to be proactive in collecting and acting on intelligence to forestall the Shakahola massacre but also unjustifiably failed to act on credible and actionable reports provided by various sources. Numerous reports had been filed at Lango Baya Police Station, Malindi Police Station and also to the Local National Government Administration officers, from 2017.

iii. The issue of radicalization by Mackenzie featured during the quarterly meeting of the Kilifi County Court User’s Committee (CUC) held on 15th November 2019 but was ignored. A former follower of Mackenzie narrated how she had posted on a social media page in November 2022 in a desperate attempt to draw public attention to the unfolding situation in Shakahola. Instead of investigating the veracity of the issues raised, the lady was intimidated after being accused of making baseless accusations. Mackenzie went to Lango Baya Police Station and filed a complaint claiming that his life was in danger as a result of the social media post. The police summoned the Social Media Platform administrators and reprimanded them for posting defamatory messages. The lady posted once again raising similar alarm about the deaths in Shakahola but the post was pulled down by the administrator fearing reprisals from Mackenzie and the police. The Commission regrets that no known sanctions were taken against those officers who abdicated their duty to protect the hundreds of persons including children who are either missing, dead, or deeply traumatized as a result of their acts of gross negligence. Instead, all the members of the area security committee were transferred to other parts of the country.

iv. The suspects were charged after being held on no charge for approximately nine months, in four different courts with varied offences in a span of eight days, raising questions about their rights to a fair hearing. The Magistrate handling an application by the State seeking to hold the suspects further observed in his ruling that: the Shakahola suspects were held for the longest pre-trial detention in Kenyan history since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

v. There has been failure to reunite child survivors with family and kin. The Commission came across 25 children aged between 1 year and 17 years being held at a rescue center in Malindi. A number of them said their parents were still alive and in police custody, while others were unaware of the fate of their parents or siblings. It is important to reunite the children with their kin, so that they can enjoy the rights enshrined in Article 53.

vi. To lure more followers, the Ministry registered a TV company, Good News Media (K) Limited on 19th April 2012 operating from Malindi, Kilifi County. Mackenzie also broadcast his sermons through a YouTube channel that had 677 videos and over 7,000 subscribers. The relevant regulatory authorities ought to have taken timely appropriate action to stop them from abusing these freedoms.

vii. A visit to Malindi GK prison revealed that whereas Mackenzie had a mattress and a blanket, the rest of the suspects were sleeping on bare concrete floors with neither blankets nor mattresses. The prison authorities told the Commission that the prison was facing various challenges especially supplies which explains why over 30% of the prisoners had no uniforms, mattresses, and blankets. The prison was also overcrowded as it was holding 850 prisoners against a recommended capacity of 650 prisoners. The prison authorities further informed the Commission that they were struggling to ensure all the prisoners are adequately fed with the limited food supplies and finances available.

viii. The Commission received credible allegations of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment meted out against suspected perpetrators and survivors of the Shakahola massacre while in police and prison custody.

ix. Shakaola survivors who were rescued, were denied proper pyscho-social support, and this was further aggravated by being charged in court with attempted suicide. This amounts to re-traumatization and victimization of the survivors at a time when they needed intense care and rehabilitation from the State. The Commission was able to intercede and convinced the Court to allow the Commission offer psycho-social support to the survivors.

x. The Constitution confers on everyone the right to freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion. This right, however, does not extend to extremist ideologies and practices that would include the destruction of property, violence, killings, and violation of other human rights. The State failed to protect its citizens from harm and abuse of their constitutionally granted rights, by failing to ensure that religion is not used to affect public safety, order, health, fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

xi. The delayed resumption of exhumations by the government for the last six (6) months will negatively impact the DNA sampling through the continued decomposition of the bodies in the shallow graves.

xii. The slow pace in concluding the DNA processing continues to occasion more delay in releasing of the bodies to their families who have been waiting for the last twelve (12) months. This is not only delayed justice but also violates their cultural rights under Article 44 of the Constitution to bury their relatives in a culturally acceptable and dignified manner.

xiii. There has been very limited flow of information and communication from State agencies to the affected. People are anxious and need closure on the matter. There are those wondering if their kin are in the graves and yet to be exhumed, there are those wondering if their kin are amongst the already exhumed, there are those wondering what the taskforce set up to investigate the tragedy have been up to. We acknowledge information released yesterday regarding release of identified bodies to the families. We hope the state will offer financial support to the affected families in collecting and burying their kin.

xiv. Agencies charged with conducting the DNA tests are hampered by lack of reagents and other necessary materials and equipment. This has slowed down the process of identification of the bodies, causing their kith and kin a lot of anguish and trauma.

xv. Psycho-social support has not been offered to National Government and Administration Officers who interacted with the tragedy, visiting the graves, witnessing the exhumations, witnessing the post-mortems and interacting with survivors. These people have suffered trauma, and it is important that they are supported by offering psycho-social programmes.

xvi. All the survivors were housed in private rescue centers. The Commission established that there are no Government funded rescue centers in the whole of the Coast region.

xvii. Disaster response systems in the Coast region are poorly resourced and equipped. The Commission established that the morgues and ambulances in the whole of coast region are very few, and not sufficient to respond in the event of a disaster or tragedy such as Shakaola. Part of the reason the exhumation was suspended, is because of lack of storage.

xviii. The followers were compelled to burn their Identity Cards. The survivors finger-prints were collected for identification purposes, but they are yet to be issued with new identity cards.

C) The Human Rights Impact of the Shakahola Tragedy From the above findings and observations, the Commission categorically states that the State failed to protect its citizens from harm and abuse in failing to ensure

That religion is not manifested in a way that violates other rights including life, security and health. The following are some of the human rights and fundamental freedoms that were violated;

1. Right to life: Over six hundred (600) people are reported missing while so far more than four hundred and twenty-nine (429) bodies have been recovered. Their lives were taken away in the most horrific and ghastly manner violating their right to life. Autopsy reports reveal that the main causes of the deaths were starvation, strangulation, head injury, and dehydration. All these are consistent with narratives from the survivors and witnesses on the happenings in the Shakahola ranch prior to the discovery of the mass graves.

2.Right to dignity and freedom from torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment: The deceased and the survivors had their human dignity debased while being subjected to torture, cruel and inhuman treatment contrary to Articles 28 and 29 of the Constitution and the Prevention of Torture Act, 2017. Needless to say, the deceased were buried in shallow mass graves in the absence of their relatives and without befitting cultural and religious rites.

3.Freedom and security of the person: The negligence and failure of the Criminal Justice System, which released MacKenzie severally, or failed to expedite hearings against him; and the national security and administration structures left the followers exposed to harm, injury and abuse.

4.Abuse of freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion: The Ministry abused the right to freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and opinion. It exploited people’s vulnerabilities and recruited hundreds of followers through direct fellowship, television, and You Tube broadcasts.

5.Abuse of freedom of expression, access to information and the media: The Ministry registered a TV company, Good News Media (K) Limited from where it broadcast sermons through a YouTube channel that had 677 videos and over 7,000 subscribers. Whereas the freedom of expression, information, and the media are protected under Articles 33, 34, and 35 of the Constitution, it does not extend to extremist propaganda, incitement to violence, and advocacy to cause harm as was manifested. The Commission also notes that some media outlets went overboard while covering the unfolding Shakahola massacre by broadcasting graphic images and misleading information thus creating unnecessary exposure of survivors and distress to family members.

6. Economic and social rights: The Ministry followers were subjected to gross deprivation and abuse of their economic, and social rights particularly the right to livelihoods, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to accessible and adequate housing and reasonable standards of sanitation by constraining followers to live in inhuman and degrading housing structures. The followers were denied food and water as a means to facilitate their death.

7. Rights of children: The Shakahola tragedy had a devastating effect on children who were starved to death, denied health care and education, and were emotionally and physically abused by those entrusted with their safety and well-being. KNCHR interacted with twenty-five (25) children who were undergoing rehabilitation at a rescue center in Malindi after they escaped or were rescued from Shakahola on diverse dates.

8. Access to justice and right to a fair hearing: While the Commission appreciated and supported the efforts by the State to hold the perpetrators to account and bring justice to the survivors and their families, the Commission continues to be greatly concerned by the inordinate delay in concluding the investigations and the holding of the ninety-five (95) suspects in penal custody for close to nine (9) months before charging them. This delay has caused severe anxiety and distress to the suspects and their families.

D) Recommendations

Based on the above findings and human rights violations, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights therefore issues the following recommendations;
To the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and National Administration

i. Immediately order the resumption of the pending exhumations to facilitate the conclusion of investigations and release of the bodies to their next of kin for burial and closure.

ii. Bring to account all Security officers and National Administration Officers whose acts of omission and commission abetted and aided the Shakahola massacre. This should include charging them with criminal negligence and individual responsibility.

iii. Facilitate the survivors to regain their vital documents which were destroyed as a result of the indoctrination and radicalization. These include; National Identity Cards, passports, birth certificates, Title Deeds, and academic and marriage certificates.

iv. Establish a multi-agency/multi-stakeholder de-radicalization and rehabilitation plan to facilitate the reintegration of the survivors into their homes, families, and communities.

v. Urgently invest in rescue and rehabilitation infrastructure across the country in readiness for unforeseen disasters in the future. This particular incident exposed a serious lack of preparedness by the Government in regard to rescue and rehabilitation in disaster situations. Suffice to say, the Government is relying on the goodwill of well-wishers to assist the Shakahola survivors.

To the Inspector General of the National Police Service

i. Conduct thorough investigations to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice especially those who bear the highest responsibility. These investigations should be expeditious and concluded in a reasonable time.
ii. Refrain from further victimizing the Shakahola massacre survivors by arresting and detaining them for presenting suicidal behavior.

To the Director of Public Prosecutions

i. Expedite the prosecution of the perpetrators of the Shakahola Tragedy.
ii. Refrain from further victimizing the survivors of the Shakahola massacre by charging them for presenting suicidal behavior.

To the Commissioner General of Prisons

i. Ensure that the Shakahola suspects held in Prison custody are treated humanely and their rights are upheld in line with the law. This applies to all persons held in prisons.

To the Minister of Health

i. Deploy mental health experts including psychiatrists and trauma counsellors towards proper and effective de-radicalization and counseling of the survivors.
ii. Avail counselling services to all persons engaged in this traumatic tragedy.
iii. Expedite the conduct of postmortems on the bodies recovered from Shakahola.

To the Government Chemist
i. Expedite the DNA analysis and profiling to facilitate the identification and handing over of all bodies to the next of kin.

To the Witness Protection Agency (WPA)

i. Offer support and protection to those witnesses and survivors who are willing to testify in the ongoing investigations.

To the National Treasury and Parliament

i. Allocate and urgently disburse optimal resources to all the agencies dealing with the various aspects of the Shakahola Tragedy. More resources should be allocated to the Correctional Services Department, Probation and After Care Services Department, The Children Services Department, Directorate of Medical Services, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Government Chemist and Rescue Centers.

To Parliament

i. Push for the full implementation of the National Coroners’ Service Act 2017 without further delay

ii.Enact an effective self-regulatory legal regime of the religious sector similar to the Media Council of Kenya and the Law Society of Kenya. Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right, but like other rights, it is not absolute.
iii. Call for complete and accurate disclosure and release of information and data relating to Shakahola in the custody of the State.

To the Attorney General and Parliament

i. Review the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which erodes constitutional safeguards on the rights of persons deprived of liberty on indeterminate pre-charge detention.

To the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, State Department for Social Protection and Senior Citizen Affairs.

i. Protect and ensure the rights of all Children held in private rescue centers, and ensure they are timeously reunited with their kin unless they are perceived to be in danger of radicalization.

To the Presidential Taskforce on review of legal and regulatory frameworks governing religious organizations in Kenya

i. Expedite release of the proposed legal framework for regulating religious organizations for public debate.

To the Religious Leaders

i. Work with relevant Government agencies to ensure that the freedom of worship does not lead to harm and loss of lives through misguided indoctrination and religious extremism.

To the General Public

i. Refrain and keep away from all forms of religious fanaticism and extremism and report such practices to relevant government agencies to forestall similar atrocities in the future.
ii. Anyone with crucial information relevant to bringing the Shakahola massacre perpetrators to justice should come forth and record statements with the Police.

I Thank You All.

Roseline Odede, HSC

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

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