HRW: 37 killed over Kenya repeat poll

Riot police officers corner a suspected Kenya opposition National Super Alliance supporter outside the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission headquarters in Nairobi. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Police and armed gangs killed at least 37 people in Nairobi between September and November 2017 during Kenya’s repeat presidential election, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

The rights watchdog on Monday said police killed at least 23 people, most of them opposition supporters, during and after the second phase of the poll, while armed gangs killed at least 14.

Most of the killings, according to HRW research, occurred when police confronted protesters with teargas and live bullets, but in some cases police shot at passers-by going about their daily routine, or at groups of youths standing together.

“Authorities need to acknowledge the full scale of election-related violence, and thoroughly investigate each and every killing,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at HRW.

“The families of victims need justice.”

HRW came up with the findings after examining hospital records and holding interviews with the affected families.

Between November 2017 and January 2018, HRW says it interviewed 67 people— including 30 relatives of victims, 27 witnesses, two human rights activists, three aid workers who helped victims’ families, three community leaders and two police officers in the field.

A majority of those interviewed hailed from Nairobi’s Muthurwa, Kawangware, Kibera, Mathare, Dandora, Kariobangi, Baba Dogo and Riverside estates.

Researchers also examined hospital records and bodies in mortuaries, reviewed 32 reports of the government’s chief pathologist on the causes of death.

“The pathologist reports showed that most victims were shot and killed at close range and, in most cases, by a high-calibre rifle,” the lobby says.

HRW research since August, when the first vote was held, has found that police and armed gangs killed more than 100 people during Kenya’s prolonged elections period.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

HRW and Amnesty International found in a joint report in October that at least 67 people were killed countrywide during the first round of voting in August, most of them either shot or beaten to death by police.

During and after the August and October elections, opposition supporters in Nairobi, the coast and western Kenya protested the alleged rigging of polls.

The opposition coalition National Super Alliance (Nasa) called weekly protests across the country in September and October, first to press for reforms, then to boycott the second vote.

In the initial stages, police did not attempt to intervene, and most protests ended peacefully.

In October and November, however, Kenyan police violently dispersed protests, in many cases shooting or beating demonstrators and bystanders.

HRW faulted the government for failing to acknowledge the killings or calling for investigations and prosecution of perpetrators.

“Authorities have a responsibility to investigate the killings that took place in the period before and after the presidential election, whether by police or armed gangs. They should ensure those responsible for unlawful killings are investigated and prosecuted,” the report said.

Under international human rights norms, police may disperse unlawful or violent assemblies but should avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, use force only to the minimum necessary extent.

They should use firearms only in extreme cases that involve an imminent threat of death or serious injury – and even then, only when less extreme methods are insufficient.

The intentional lethal use of firearms is permissible only when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

HRW hit out at President Uhuru Kenyatta for neither acknowledging the killings nor calling for investigations, while at the same time "lavishing unqualified praise on the police".

In a December 2 letter on behalf of the president, Mr Benson Kibui, the director of operations of the National Police Service, said that President Kenyatta praised the police service for “remain[ing] firm in executing its mandate and in the service of the Kenyan people” during the election period.

“President Kenyatta needs to demonstrate that he believes in the rule of law by publicly condemning all unlawful killings, and ensuring they are investigated,” Mr Namwaya said.

“Lack of accountability is a long-time concern in Kenya, and officials need to show that they are committed to seeing justice done for these killings.”

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