Kenya urged to investigate police use of excessive force, killing of protesters
June 22, Nairobi: At least 5 people died and 60 were wounded by gunfire as police tried to obstruct two recent protests in Nyanza region.. Kenyan authorities should promptly investigate police use of excessive force during the demonstrations, on May 23 and June 6, 2016, in the Nyanza region of Western Kenya, and bring anyone responsible to account.
Police officers shot live ammunition at and near those participating in the largely peaceful protests on both days. Human Rights Watch found that uninvolved bystanders, students in school or on their way home, and people at work or in their homes were seriously injured or killed in situations where lethal force was unnecessary. One witness said police shot a man coming out of a bank and apparently took his money. The shootings appear to have violated Kenyan law and international guidelines on the use of force by law enforcement officials.
In early May, Kenya's main opposition party, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), called for countrywide demonstrations every Monday against the national elections management body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Opposition parties and nongovernmental groups have been calling for the resignation of the commission's top officials, some of whom have been implicated in bribery and corruption by a UK court. CORD, which lost the 2013 election, also accuses the commissioners of bias and says they should not be allowed to oversee the 2017 general election. Members of the ruling Jubilee party have defended the commissioners.
HRW interviewed 35 people in Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, and Homabay counties in the Nyanza region, including 10 who were shot, human rights activists, witnesses to the protests and shootings, family members of those killed, two doctors and a nurse who treated those who had been shot, journalists, politicians who participated in the demonstrations, and a police spokesman.
It has found that during the May 23 demonstrations, at least three people died - one in Kisumu and two in Siaya - and more than 20 were admitted to county hospitals in Siaya, Kisumu, Homabay and Migori with bullet wounds. Many of those injured were not participating in the protests and posed no lethal threat to security officials, according to numerous witnesses.
In Homabay county, police stormed Shauri Yako neighborhood and shot people at their homes, allegedly while looking for protesters who were burning debris on the road in town. Dorothy Anyango, 37, told Human Rights Watch she stepped out of her house when she heard noise outside. "Something hit me on the shoulder from behind," she said. "I fell down and heard people say I had been shot."
The deputy national police spokesman, Jared Ojuok, said that the police use of lethal force was justified. "The law allows demonstrations, but this is supposed to be peaceful," he told Human Rights Watch. "When demonstrators carry stones, light tires on roads and throw stones at motorists or, as in the case of Kisumu, at police stations, then the demonstration ceases to be peaceful."
Earlier, the national police spokesman, Charles Owino, had told the media that police shot the demonstrators in self-defense and had no apologies to make. "Do not threaten the life of a police officer," he said. "We have a responsibility to protect ourselves first as we protect the public and other police officers."
Protests have occurred in the capital Nairobi, the coast region, Rift Valley, Nyanza, and other parts of the country. After the media photographed uniformed police officers savagely beating people, including one man who appeared unconscious, during protests in Nairobi on May 16, the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights and Kenya's development partners condemned the violence and called for accountability. In response, Inspector General Joseph Boinett told the media that he had ordered investigations into allegations of police brutality.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms say that law enforcement officials, including military units responding to national emergencies, should apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force, use force only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, and to use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. In cases of death or serious injury, appropriate agencies are to conduct a review and a detailed report is to be sent promptly to the competent administrative or prosecutorial authorities. The principles also say that governments should ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense. Superior officers should be held responsible if they knew, or should have known, that personnel under their command resorted to the unlawful use of force and firearms but did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress, or report such use.
The government of Kenya should publicly acknowledge and condemn recent killings and shootings of unarmed people by members of the security forces. The government should initiate credible investigations into the actions of police alleged to have ordered or carried out human rights abuses during the May 23 and June 6 protests in the Nyanza region.
Donors to the Kenyan government should support police accountability mechanisms, particularly the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, in carrying out investigations into the recent violence in Nyanza and urge the release of their findings to the public.
The Oslo Times International News Network/IFEX