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Death, denial and accountability in Kenya

Journalists don't get to say this very often but today's press conference at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi was extraordinary.

The UN's leading expert on state-sponsored murder announced his findings at the end of a 10-day fact-finding mission to Kenya. He didn't pull his punches.

Kenya's police "are a law unto themselves. They kill often with impunity," said Professor Philip Alston. He said the police act as if they have a "license to kill" and have set up "death squads."

Police officers responsible for killings never face justice for murders they deny even happened. They interpret the law, said Alston, as "carte blanche to kill just about anyone."

The army — which receives training from the United States and Britain — is also responsible for hundreds of disappearances as well as torture, said Alston.

Alston called for the resignation of the attorney general, who he said serially fails to prosecute officials, and for the sacking of the chief of police, who Alston said is the only person in Kenya who believes the police are innocent of the charges.

These are allegations that have been made before but never in such stark terms. It was, as one Western diplomat put it, a report that will be impossible to ignore.

It remains to be seen how Kenya's government will react but Wednesday's press conference could mark a crucial turning point in ending the impunity enjoyed by police and bringing about much-needed accountability.