News 2008


Human Rights Groups Accuse Kenyan Police of Excessive Force, Killings


By Cathy Majtenyi Nairobi

11 March 2008

Kenyans are beginning to come to terms with the violence that followed the country's 2007 elections in which more than 1,000 people were killed and as many as 600,000 were displaced. There are growing calls for investigations into the extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations that occurred after Kenyans went to the polls in elections that many believe were rigged. Cathy Majtenyi reports from Nairobi.

More than 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed in violence following Kenya's December 27th elections, which many say were rigged in favor of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and his Party of National Unity at the expense of Raila Odinga, who heads the Orange Democratic Movement party.

A list of the dead compiled by the Independent Medico-Legal Unit provides gruesome details of how people were killed in the post-election violence.

This list by the Kenyan human rights group is a description of 80 post-mortems.

Dr. Jane Nyanyuki is the IMLU's program manager for rehabilitation and documentation. "Our pathologists' report revealed that 43 percent of the examined bodies had gunshot injuries to various parts,” she said. “Specifically those which resulted in death were to the head, the chest and the abdomen."

The group says it is likely that most, or all of the bullets came from police firearms.

Executive director Samuel Mohochi explains why. "It is the state that wields the instruments of justice which include firearms, so the primary assumption we will start with (is that) only state agencies are lawfully allowed to have firearms."

The conflict also involved an ethnic dimension, with certain groups burning and destroying the homes and businesses of other groups in tensions that date back to colonial times.

Kenyan and international human rights groups accuse police of using excessive force to break up post-election demonstrations and clashes.

They maintain that the number of gunshot and other deaths in the western areas of Kenya was proportionately higher than in areas supporting the ruling party.

This was the case in the opposition stronghold city of Kisumu, according to human rights activist Chris Owalla. "In Kisumu, during the violence, most of the people who were shot were shot from behind, which means that they were surrendering. Either they were running or they already surrendered," he said.

Police commissioner Major-General Hussein Ali has rejected accusations that police used excessive force in dealing with the unrest.

But human rights groups are concerned that violence could erupt again, despite internationally-backed efforts to achieve reconciliation.

Gladwell Otieno, executive director of Africa Centre for Open Governance, explains, "We are receiving worrying reports of re-arming, arming, training by militias on both sides, particularly in the Rift Valley."

Human rights groups also are worried that authorities are putting pressure on those displaced to return to their homes. These groups say many areas are still not safe for certain ethnic groups.

And there is the worry that people may be returning to places where there was widespread destruction of property and there is nothing left to support them.

This will be among the problems to be resolved following the power sharing agreement signed on February 28th by President Kibaki and opposition leader Odinga. While both men have called on Kenyans to work together to restore peace to the country, the hatred and abuses that occurred will clearly take a long time to heal.