Kenyan officials ‘abdicated duty’ in cult murders: rights watchdogFri, 22 Mar 2024 11:22:45 GMT

Kenyan government officials ignored “credible reports” that could have prevented the death of more than 400 suspected doomsday cult members, a state-funded human rights watchdog said on Friday. The piles of human remains were discovered in April 2023 in Shakahola forest, a vast bushland that lies inland from the Indian Ocean town of Malindi.The government is due to start releasing the exhumed bodies to relatives for burial next week after the DNA profiling was delayed by lack of reagents and equipment.The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), a state-backed body, criticised security officers 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,” KNCHR chairwoman Roseline Odede said. Self-professed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie is alleged to have incited his followers to starve to death in order to “meet Jesus”. While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, autopsies carried out by the government found that some victims — including children — had been strangled, beaten or suffocated.Between April and October last year, a total of 429 bodies were exhumed from shallow graves, while 67 adults and 25 children were rescued, according to government records. – Warnings ignored -“Many followers faced a slow excruciating death, mainly through starvation,” KNCHR said.The rights group said the radicalisation of Mackenzie, a former taxi driver, had been raised at a court users’ meeting in November 2019 but had also been ignored.A former follower of Mackenzie had “desperately” tried to sound the alarm but her warnings were also dismissed, it added. “Instead of investigating the veracity of the issues raised, the lady was intimidated after being accused of making baseless accusations,” Odede said.”The commission regrets that no known sanctions were taken against those officers who abdicated their duty to protect hundreds of persons, including children who are either missing, dead or deeply traumatised,” KNCHR said.Mackenzie has been in detention since handing himself in to the police in April and investigations continue. He has been charged with murder, manslaughter, terrorism and child abuse. A Senate commission of inquiry reported in October that Mackenzie had faced charges back in 2017 for his extreme preaching but “the criminal justice system failed to deter the heinous activities”.