February 20, 2020
By Maggie Fick
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan police shot dead at least eight people in Nairobi slums in the past two months, violating laws on the use of excessive force, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, even though officials have said they are determined to end such incidents.
The recent victims of police violence are young men from poor areas shot by officers at close range, the New York-based rights group said.
One was killed last month during a protest in Nairobi’s Kasarani neighborhood over poor road conditions.
A witness told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that the 19-year-old was heading to work when he encountered people running from the police. The man dropped to his knees to plead with police to allow him to pass but police shot in him the chest, the witness was quoted as saying.
Kenyan police say they do not use excessive force. “We have cases where police officers have killed…. they have been arrested and charged in a court of law for the offences they commit,” police spokesman Charles Owino told Reuters in response to a request for comment on Thursday’s report.
A report published last year by the police that said the force was in the process of becoming “friendlier” and “people-centred”.
“…(T)he National Police Service is on a reforms trajectory and has already undergone tremendous changes and transformation aimed at improving service delivery to Kenyans,” said the report, called “New Dawn”.
Police in another poor Nairobi district on Christmas Day picked up four young men from a children’s home and shot two dead, accusing them of being criminals, witnesses told HRW. Officers removed the bullets and spent cartridges from the scene, one witness was quoted as saying.
The killings come amid public anger in the East African nation over police brutality and the government’s failure to hold officers to account despite an official police watchdog that has received tens of millions of dollars from foreign donors.
In November, nearly half of Kenyans surveyed by the police watchdog IPOA said they had suffered police abuse of power.
A 2018 Reuters investigation https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/kenya-police-watchdog found IPOA was struggling to fulfill its mandate. At that time, it had secured convictions of police officers for committing crimes in only two cases, despite receiving more than 9,200 complaints since it was established in 2013. To date, it has secured six convictions.
Human Rights Watch said IPOA is investigating two of the eight killings it documented but it is hampered by a lack of police cooperation.
“Police have not stopped killing young men,” said 27-year-old Lucy Wambui, whose repairman husband Christopher Maina was killed in 2017 by police in broad daylight. Police shot dead a young man from her neighborhood, Eastleigh, two weeks ago, she told Reuters.
Activists reported her husband’s killing to IPOA but the watchdog told her last year that the time for investigating had lapsed, she said.
(Reporting By Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo and Duncan Miriri; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Toby Chopra)