Kenyan officials 'abdicated duty' in cult murders: rights watchdog

Kenya Human remains were discovered last April in Shakahola forest.  By Yasuyoshi CHIBA AFPFile
MAR 22, 2024 LISTEN
Human remains were discovered last April in Shakahola forest. By Yasuyoshi CHIBA (AFP/File)

A state-backed Kenyan human rights watchdog on Friday said government officials ignored "credible reports" that could have prevented the death of more than 400 suspected doomsday cult members.

The piles of human remains were discovered last April in Shakahola forest, a vast bushland that lies inland from the Indian Ocean town of Malindi.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), a state-funded 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 action reports," KNCHR chairperson 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, some victims -- including children -- were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to autopsies carried out by the government.

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.

KNCHR said the radicalisation by Mackenzie, a former taxi driver, had featured in a court committee's meeting in November 2019 but had been ignored.

A former follower of Mackenzie had "desperately" tried to sound the alarm but was 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 over to the police in April as investigations draw out.

He has since been charged with murder, manslaughter, terrorism and child abuse.