(Nairobi) – Police and armed gangs killed at least 37 people in Nairobi between September and November 2017, during the second phase of Kenya’s presidential election, Human Rights Watch said today. Kenyan authorities should urgently investigate these killings and all others documented during the entire elections period, and ensure that all of those found responsible for unlawful killings are held to account.
“Authorities need to acknowledge the full scale of election-related violence, and thoroughly investigate each and every killing,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The families of victims need justice.”
Police killed at least 23 people, most of them opposition supporters, during and after the second phase of the 2017 presidential elections in various Nairobi neighborhoods, and armed gangs killed at least 14. The first presidential election was held on August 8, but the results were annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court and a second election was held on October 26. President Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in for a second term in November.
Between November 2017 and January 2018, Human Rights Watch researchers 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. Researchers also examined hospital records and bodies in mortuaries, reviewed 32 reports of the government’s chief pathologist on the causes of death, and interviewed people in Nairobi’s Muthurwa, Kawangware, Kibera, Mathare, Dandora, Kariobangi, Babadogo, and Riverside neighborhoods.
The pathologist reports showed that most victims were shot and killed at close range and, in most cases, by a high caliber rifle. Most of these killings, according to Human Rights Watch research, occurred when police confronted protesters with teargas and live bullets, but in some cases police shot at passersby going about their daily routine, or at groups of youths standing together.
Human Rights Watch 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. Human Rights Watch 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 the second election, Human Rights Watch documented 37 more killings, most by police, in Nairobi’s Embakasi, Kawangware, Dandora, Mathare, Kibera, Kangemi, Kariobangi, and Riverside neighborhoods. Armed gangs killed some people they identified by tribe as likely opposition supporters.
During and after the August and October elections, opposition supporters in Nairobi, the coast and western Kenya protested the alleged rigging of polls. The National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition of opposition parties 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 to death. On significant dates, police carried out house-to-house operations in opposition stronghold areas such as Kariobangi, Dandora, Mathare, and Kibera and shot to death, beat, and injured dozens of people. These dates included the opposition candidate Raila Odinga’s return from overseas on November 17, the supreme court decision to uphold Kenyatta’s second victory on November 20, and Kenyatta’s swearing-in ceremony on November 28.
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.
The government should thoroughly investigate all killings by police, and hold personnel accountable for any unlawful killings. Kenyan authorities have been slow to investigate all the documented killings.
In a statement on November 14, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), Kenya’s police accountability institution, said that it had only investigated two killings from around the time of the elections – of 6-month-old Samantha Pendo, who was assaulted in her parents’ house in Kisumu and died on August 15, and of 9-year-old Stephanie Moraa, who was shot by police on the third floor balcony of her family’s house in Nairobi and died on August 12. IPOA has recommended a public inquest for both killings and disciplinary action against commanders who were in charge on the day Pendo was assaulted. The inquest on Pendo’s killing started in Kisumu on February 15.
Twice in January and February, Human Rights Watch wrote to IPOA and the police requesting more information on the killings, and the status of the investigations, including a list of names of victims, and for interviews, following a similar request in August. At time of writing, IPOA and the police spokesperson are yet to respond to our requests.
Kenyan and international human rights groups have repeatedly called on Kenyatta to ensure accountability for all unlawful killings carried out during the election period. A report of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, a constitutionally mandated institution, found in December that at least 97 people died countrywide during the 2017 elections. The Independent Medico-legal Unit (IMLU), a Kenyan nongovernmental group, documented at least 36 police killings nationwide between August and November. Both organizations have called on Kenyan authorities to ensure those responsible for unlawful killings are held to account.
Kenyatta has neither acknowledged the killings nor called for them to be investigated, while at the same time lavishing unqualified praise on the police. In a December 2 letter on behalf of the president, Benson Kibui, the director of operations of the National Police Service, said that 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.
Kenyan authorities have a responsibility to investigate all the killings that took place in the period before and after the October general elections, whether by police or armed gangs, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should ensure that all of those responsible for unlawful killings are investigated and prosecuted.
“President Kenyatta needs to demonstrate that he believes in the rule of law by publicly condemning all unlawful killings, and ensuring they are investigated,” Namwaya said. “Lack of accountability is a longtime concern in Kenya, and officials need to show that they are committed to seeing justice done for these killings.”