Police brutality rears ugly head again

Activist Bonface Mwangi confronts police officers during a demonstration against the force's brutality on Thursday. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]
Kenyans are still dealing with the aftermath violence meted on demonstrators as the country approaches the October 26 presidential election.

Gains made from the new Constitution, which included changing its name from the Kenya Police to National Police Service (NPS), are slowly being watered down courtesy of Parliament’s amendments of the laws that created the service.

Unlike in the 2013 elections when they were lauded for handling the elections well, NPS now finds itself accused of using excessive force, flouting the Constitution and disobeying court orders.

ICC indictment

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The service had been indicted in the 2007-08 post-election violence, with its then commander Mohammed Ali facing crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC). In 2013, under the command of David Kimaiyo and his deputy Grace Kaindi, the police service operated independently, knowing its every move was being watched. 

But they seem to have thrown all caution to the wind in 2017. A report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released early last week shows that 33 people were killed in Nairobi alone, most of them as a result of action by the police.

Out of the 33, the report says 23 appear to have been shot or beaten to death by police. Amnesty International wants NPS to review all allegations and refer the cases to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) for further investigations and prosecution.

It also wants the officers and commanders implicated in unlawful use of force held to account and those found to have violated human rights, including provisions of the National Police Act, prosecuted.

On its part, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) documented 37 deaths and more than 120 people injured. “The grave injuries point to the use of excessive force that did not comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality as per the Sixth Schedule of the National Police Service Act,” said the rights watch in its report.

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Large numbers of paramilitary units of regular, General Service Unit (GSU) and Administrative Police (AP) officers have been deployed in areas that were marked as hot spots.

Deployment of police officers is on Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet’s docket.

Officers deployed to manage public order and crowd control during protests against the electoral commission were expected to adhere to the regulations on the use of force and firearms. They were also to exercise restraint in the management of protesting crowds.

Lawyer Priscillah Nyokabi, the former Nyeri Woman Representative, said there is need for Parliament to relook the police Standing Orders and clarify instances in which an officer may use excessive force.

“There is also need for training to handle demonstrations because this has become an important issue since the new constitution came into force,” she said. Under the National Police Service Act’s Sixth Schedule, law enforcement officers are required to use non-violent means first. Force may only be employed when non-violent means are ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.

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Officers are required to provide medical assistance to the injured. Failure to do so is considered a criminal offence. They are also required to report to their superiors the circumstances that led to use of force.

Boinnet maintains that the officers’ conduct when carrying out operations is as per the reforms introduced in the service. “Police reforms are very well on course, they are being implemented in stages. One of the milestones is the change of the training curriculum, which has been synchronised for regular, administration and GSU officers,” Boinnet told Sunday Standard.  

Boinnet said there was no contempt of court during the raid at the Nairobi home of business mogul Jimi Wanjigi. He faulted claims that officers illegally forced their way into the house.

“It sounds balderdash to claim we had no search warrant. In fact, when his lawyers arrived with a court order that sought to bar us from carrying out the raid, they learnt we were there on the strength of a search warrant,” stated the IG.

Illegal operations

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National Police Service Commission (NPSC) Chairman Johnston Kavuludi told Sunday Standard claims of existence of civilians in police uniforms carrying out illegal operations in NASA demonstrations against the electoral agency can only be clarified by Boinnet.

“The IG or Ipoa are best placed to offer explanations over the use of excess force claims and police militia claims. The demarcated lines are very clear,” he said.

According to Kavuludi, the commission’s core mandate is human resource management, and should not be blamed for police misdeeds in security operations. He warned that wayward officers will be swept away by ongoing reforms which he assured are firmly on course.

But NPSC has been accused on several occasions of disobeying court orders especially on sacked senior officers who obtain reinstatement orders. The commission has powers to recruit, appoint, confirm appointment, determine and transfer officers.

Boinnet defended police officers against criticism, saying they are doing their work within the realms of the law and rubbished concerns that militia posing as officers had infiltrated the anti-riot operations.

 “That is absolutely false. We cannot allow that to happen. People are just spreading propaganda that civilians in police uniform have joined us,” he said.

According to Boinnet, only 10 people -- Kondele (three), Kisumu CBD (two), Homa Bay (two), Nairobi CBD (one) and Bondo (two) -- had died between October 2 and October 17 in anti-IEBC protest that have left scores of policemen nursing serious injuries with one almost being killed by a mob.

“There is no massacre, some people are saying police are killing people but that is not the case. Let me reiterate that nobody, whether small or big, is above the law,” he said.

Taking responsibility

He denied allegations police shot dead a student in Kondele, saying the killing was done by a stranger. “Investigations show the bullet that killed the boy was not from our officers,” explained the police boss.

Ipoa chairman Macharia Njeru said the authority is working under extreme pressure to deliver results on the alleged killings.

He defended the watchdog against accusations of laxity amid police brutality against hapless demonstrators, saying those found culpable will be charged no matter how long IPOA investigations take.

 “Ours is to establish the truth, we need time. We don’t want to do shoddy investigations because of the risk of the cases being thrown out by courts. I understand the frustrations of the public, but eventually people will take responsibility,” said Macharia. He blamed police for using live bullets and expressed fear that if the demonstrations persist, the agency will be stretched.

“The use of excessive force calls for re-training of the officers especially on crowd control and use of certain tools and equipment.

“Live bullets can only be used when the crowds are armed with dangerous weapons,” he said, cautioning protestors against provoking the police.

“Attacking a police officer is a serious transgression, in other jurisdictions, the punishment is punitive,” he warned.

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