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Security Forces Violations in Kenya’s August 2017 Elections
On August 8, 2017, Kenya held presidential elections in which the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected amid allegations of electoral fraud. The vote, which has since been annulled by Kenya’s supreme court following the opposition’s legal challenge, was also marred by serious human rights violations, especially in opposition strongholds in Nairobi, western Kenya and Coast.
This report, based on research conducted by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch between August 9 and September 12, 2017 focuses on events in Nairobi’s informal settlements (Mathare, Kibera, Babadogo, Dandora, Korogocho, Kariobangi and Kawangware) in the aftermath of polling and the announcement of results on August 11. Demonstrations documented in this report were spontaneous and most of them were differing in degrees of violence. Responding to violence and looting is challenging, but the Kenya police have trained for this, and, as this report indicates, have shown, in some areas that they can do it lawfully, without loss of life. This report describes policing patterns in response to protests and violence in the informal settlements and documents a wide range of human rights violations including unlawful killings, excessive force and beatings.
At least 33 people were killed in Nairobi alone, most of them as a result of action by the police and therefore warranting investigation by either the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a special commission or by parliament. Twenty-three, including children, appear to have been shot or beaten to death by police. Others were killed by tear gas and pepper spray fired at close range or trampled by fleeing crowds, and two died of trauma from shock. Two others were stoned by mobs. We received unconfirmed reports of another 17 dead in Nairobi. Added to the 12 killings at the hands of police documented by Human Rights Watch in western Kenya, and five additional killings confirmed by the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, the national death toll could be as high as 67. Hundreds of residents have suffered severe injuries including gunshot wounds, debilitating injuries such as broken bones and extensive bruising as a result of the police violence.

In many opposition areas Kenyan authorities deployed large numbers of paramilitary units: General Service Unit (GSU) police, Administration Police (AP), and units from Prisons, Kenya Wildlife Service and National Youth Service ahead of the polling, in anticipation of potential violence. These heavy deployments fueled political tensions ahead of the vote and exacerbated the unrest that followed the announcement of the results in which security forces sometimes used unlawful, excessive force to disperse protests, shooting and beating to death people on the street and in house-to-house searches. They used live ammunition, tear gas and pepper spray and beat residents with batons, often under cover of darkness.
The government’s own National Contingency Plan for the August elections refers to “hotspots” that police publicly named, where they assessed that violence was most likely. The hotspots were all opposition strongholds in ethnic majority Luo and Luhya areas, creating the impression of an ethnic and political dimension to the excessive police action that followed the poll. Residents in these areas told Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that they believed they were being punished for the way that they had voted. Indeed, police statements to witnesses suggested the same. In many areas, police attacked crowds rather than controlled them and conducted punitive raids into people’s homes as they pursued youths who had thrown rocks at them.
However, in Kariobangi and Korogocho, researchers found that local police commanders chose not to deploy paramilitary reinforcements, opting instead for community policing methods and dialogue with protesters. Here, prior relationship building efforts between police chiefs and community leaders proved successful and, save for a few injuries, there were no deaths.
Police and paramilitary reinforcements also suppressed reporting on the violence and the gathering of evidence of human rights violations. Officers destroyed cameras and phones, beat photographers, arrested journalists and threatened human rights defenders, hampering the collection of evidence. Moreover, in many cases, victims and family members did not report violations and deaths because they feared retribution from police. The Kenya Police and the Cabinet Secretary for the Interior have denied reports of excessive force and unlawful killings by police and, at time of writing, were not co-operating with the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), a civilian police accountability institution.
Kenya has a long history of political violence, impunity for high-level perpetrators, and mistrust of the police. The September 1 ruling of the Supreme Court annulling the flawed election has not calmed political tensions. With the incumbent President Kenyatta publicly criticizing the judiciary for the ruling, and the opposition refusing to participate in the election unless certain conditions are met, the stakes are high for the revote. On October 10, leading opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, announced withdrawal from the October 26 elections, creating uncertainty over the repeat poll.
As the country prepares for a fresh election, whether it takes place on October 26, 2017 or at a later date, authorities should ensure the police refrain from the violations that undermined the aftermath of the August poll. They should condemn violations that occurred, establish an independent judicial inquiry to examine the role of the police in responding to the August election violence, support the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) in investigating all cases of killing by the police and excessive use of force, publicly encourage all victims of police violence to come forward and submit complaints to IPOA, commit to prompt and effective investigation and prosecution of officers reasonably suspected of responsibility for criminal acts, and commit to ensuring reparations, including adequate compensation, for victims and their families.
Source: Human Rights Watch


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