By Treezer Michelle Atieno
Police brutality is a grave issue that continues to plague societies around the world, and Kenya is no exception. In recent times, there have been numerous reports and incidents of police brutality against protesters in Kenya, highlighting a disturbing reality that demands attention and action.
One notable example of police brutality in Kenya occurred during the protests following the disputed presidential election in 2017. Supporters of the opposition party took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the election results, demanding transparency, and accountability. However, these peaceful demonstrations were met with excessive force by the police.
The Human Rights Watch document that during these protests, security forces used tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition against unarmed protesters. Several individuals lost their lives, while many others sustained severe injuries. The use of excessive force by the police was widely condemned by human rights organizations both within Kenya and internationally.
Another instance of police brutality against protesters in Kenya took place during the recent demonstrations against police violence and systemic racism inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. In June 2020, Kenyan activists organized protests in Nairobi to show solidarity with the global movement and to raise awareness about police brutality within their own country.
However, these peaceful demonstrations were met with aggression from the police. Videos circulated on social media showing officers beating protesters with batons and using tear gas indiscriminately. The excessive use of force resulted in injuries to several individuals, including journalists who were covering the protests.
The recent mass demonstrations in the country have affirmed the urgent need to address police brutality in Kenya. There are records of loss of lives as well as injuries resulting from the use of live bullets on protesters.
These incidents are not isolated cases but rather indicative of a broader pattern of police brutality in Kenya. The use of excessive force by law enforcement officials has been a longstanding issue in the country, often resulting in violations of human rights and undermining democratic principles.
A press release by United Nations Children Fund UNICEF on 13th July, 2023, questioned the safety of children in different towns in Kenya in the current demonstrations. “Incidents of children being exposed to tear gas and other dangers present in large crowds are alarming. We appeal to all involved parties to undertake necessary measures to ensure the safety and protection of children.” read part of the press release.
On the same day, The United Nations human rights office also expressed concern about the widespread use of violence by police against protesters in Kenya, after demonstrations against the high cost of living reportedly turned deadly.
According to human rights organizations, there are several reasons behind this persistent problem. One contributing factor is a lack of proper training for law enforcement officers on crowd control techniques and respect for human rights. Insufficient accountability mechanisms also play a role, as officers involved in acts of brutality are rarely held accountable for their actions.
Furthermore, the politicization of the police force in Kenya has led to a culture of impunity. In some instances, law enforcement agencies have been used as tools to suppress dissent and silence opposition voices. This further exacerbates the issue of police brutality and undermines public trust in the security apparatus.
To address this pressing issue, it is crucial for the Kenyan government to take immediate action. This includes implementing comprehensive police reforms that prioritize human rights, accountability, and transparency. Adequate training programs should be established to educate law enforcement officers on proper crowd control techniques and respect for human rights.
Additionally, an independent oversight body should be established to investigate complaints of police misconduct and ensure that those responsible are held accountable. Strengthening the rule of law and promoting a culture of respect for human rights within the police force is essential to combating police brutality in Kenya.