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Van Vollenhoven Institute concludes NWO study on police vetting in Kenya

Following periods of oppression and widespread violations of human rights, there is often a need for transitional vetting – a sort of ‘cleansing’ of the civil service. Where does this need come from? There are many answers to this question. But vetting, among other things, can contribute to recovering the legitimacy of bureaucracy and have a potentially important structuring function.

So on paper, vetting would appear to be a good remedy. But how does it work in practice? How are vetting rules and procedures implemented? Is this done fairly, with respect for the rule of law? If not, where is it failing?

Up to now, little knowledge was available about the practice of vetting. The Van Vollenhoven Institute (VVI) and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) decided to conduct a study into this practice.  To this end, the two institutes decided to focus on a specific case: the vetting of the police service in Kenya. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) provided funding for the project.


Based on an analysis of transcripts of hearings and interviews with the various parties involved, the researchers discovered that the scope for discretion in decision-making was substantial. That in itself is not problematic, but it does increase the risk of inequality in procedures and in decisions taken in comparable cases. In Kenya, inequality was indeed identified. What was the cause of this? Most members of the vetting commission had hardly any experience with taking judicial decisions. Moreover, they operated in a strongly polarized context. In that context, the researchers established that ethnic diversity, insecurity and the desire for status of commission members, had a negative impact on decision-making.    


At present, the international community tends to focus only on legal design when developing transitional vetting programmes. A clear framework is indeed important. But without paying attention to the implementation of that framework and the context in which this is done, there is a risk that the effect of vetting will remain limited, or could even be damaging.

Read the final report of the project here.

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