2021 twin crises: Covid pandemic and cruel police force

Police brutality

Lobby groups have released worrying statistics of deaths caused by police in 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Lobby groups have released worrying statistics of deaths caused by police in 2021, painting a grim picture of twin crises – the Covid-19 pandemic related fatalities and deaths caused by the very bodies charged with enforcing security in the country.

Their reports focused on several “grave” human rights violations documented in 2021, these including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (TCIDT) as defined under the UN Conventions Against Torture (UNCAT).

The reports implicated the Kenyan security agencies of being behind most of the cases of enforced disappearances and subsequent resurfacing.

Haki Africa’s report says last year, 30 people “went missing mysteriously” across the country. This, Haki Africa said, was the highest number of individuals ever to have been reported missing. Of these, only 22 reappeared alive.

The Haki Africa report also indicated that the Coast region led with more than 10 cases of disappearances.

State brutality

In the same period, between January 1 and December 21, 2021, the country recorded 198 cases of alleged state brutality and violence, of which 164 were males while 34 were female. This is an increase of 31.31 per cent compared to the 136 cases processed in 2020, according to the Independent Medical Legal Unit (IMLU).

This translates to 17 cases per month, with August having the highest number of violations documented, at 39, and February having the lowest at 4 cases. December numbers account for only 21 days of the month.

Of the total, IMLU says, 43.9 per cent were extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions. About 42.4 per cent were other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, while 12.6 per cent were cases of torture. Two cases were of enforced disappearances.

The report indicated that the largest number of violations occurred in the context of enforcing Covid-19 virus prevention control measures at 35, followed by public protests (32) and responding to suspects of crime (19). Some 56 other violations were in unclear circumstances, accounting for 21.28 per cent of the violations.

Out of the total 35 covid-19 related cases recorded, the report says, 14 died, five suffered torture, while another 16 were mishandled or cruelly handled by the police.

According to IMLU Executive Director Peter Kiama, Kenya Police Service (general duty officers), who perpetrated 156 cases, were the most notorious government perpetrators, contributing 78.79 per cent of the total cases processed in 2021.

Anti-Stock Theft Unit officers were responsible for seven cases, followed by county askaris, popularly known as kanjos (5), public school teachers (4), chiefs or assistant chiefs (3) while Kenya Defence Force officers, Kenya Wildlife Services officers, Coast Guard, prison warders, and British army were responsible for one case each. Both Kenya Forest Service and government doctors were responsible for two cases each.

Ugandan police

There was an outlier case where three cases were by Ugandan police against refugees.

“These alleged perpetrators are attached to 84 police stations and 13 other government Institutions,” the report said.

Men, IMLU noted, are most likely to be victims of state perpetrated human rights violations, accounting for 82.83 per cent of the torture, cruel inhumane and degrading treatment and enforced disappearances.

In terms of the age distribution, the largest number of victims, 146, (accounting for 73 per cent) were within the age bracket of 18-40 years, largely within the youth bracket.

Police modus operandi

The extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings in the context of enforcing health protocols, IMLU observed, were a clear illustration of the attitudes and modus operandi of the police.

“A very punitive approach to policing that is contrary to the institutional ethos and laws guiding policing in Kenya,” Mr Kiama said.

“Bludgeoning one to death by trying to protect them from Covid-19 is not right,” he added.

“Right to life in Kenya is under great danger mainly because of disregard of the law by those charged with responsibility of enforcing the law. That's why we can't remain silent.”

Additional reporting by Kalume Kazungu


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