No help as traumatised victims of police brutality suffer silently

Activist being arrested by police during Saba Saba march along Jamia mosque in July 2020. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Victims and survivors, together with families impacted by police brutality in Kenya seldom get justice.

Some of these survivors have lived to share horrifying stories of how they have suffered brutal beatings, unlawful arrests and torture while in detention.

Some bear scars of careless shootings if they are lucky to escape death.

Police who mete out such extreme violence against the youth, especially at the grassroots, swear in the name of fighting crime; but why?

Despite the cries from the community being loud enough for everyone to hear, the systems in place meant to protect the masses remain deaf, showing no intention or desire to truthfully serve Kenyans as their motto states - “utumishi kwa wote (service to all).

It was disheartening reading the Missing Voices report on police killings and enforced disappearances in Kenya.

In this report, the stories of three mothers of victims of police killings in Kenya were heart-rending.

Majority of those impacted by police brutality come from humble backgrounds. They suffer in silence, with little to no emotional, mental and financial support, in their pursuit for justice for their kin.

Furthermore, the manner in which their cases are being addressed is questionable.

As told by the mothers of victims of police killings in the recently launched report, the entire process of collecting evidence, recording witness statements and filing the cases in court, is slow, arduous and extremely frustrating.

Total number

Indeed, this bungled process, a criminal judge noted, beats the reason for their quest for justice as it potentially weakens cases.

For instance, Missing Voices, has documented 27 cases of police officers who have been convicted and sentenced since 2016.  

Sadly, however, it took five years on average to reach these convictions. Besides, these are very low numbers compared to the total number of incidences and cases documented and currently in court.

When cases take too long to be resolved, the witnesses forget key details of the incident or specific information; families become fatigued and the accused are allowed more time to tamper with evidence.

Inevitably, the probability of conviction also becomes low and the cycle of injustice continues.

So long as there are families and people who suffer injustices from the same institutions meant to protect them, it is impossible to truly state with conviction we have achieved independence.

These violent actions by the Kenya Police have turned many families to human rights activists, fighting for justice for their fallen kin, friends and neighbors.

The Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network (MVSN) is such a group; where they work with volunteers and the public to push for police reforms in their communities.

The group helps victims and survivors of police violence to document incidents through the filing of necessary paperwork with the police and other relevant authorities such as the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA).

They also go out of their way to help the victims and survivors attend court processes and offer comfort and counsel to these families.

Last year, the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network (MVSN) launched a book titled, ‘They Were Us: Stories of Victims and Survivors of Police Brutality in Kenya’.

The book highlights 16 stories of 18 families in Nairobi who have fallen victim to the violent actions of police.

Once again, the cries in the community can be heard but unfortunately, the systems put in place to protect Kenyans, are slow to act in wiping out tears of all these victims.

Tears in this sense are all the injustices, the pain, the fear and the hurt felt by those who suffer as victims of rogue police actions or inaction. Till when shall Kenyans cry? Who will wipe these tears?

International law

In Kenya, no law expressly speaks to enforced disappearances, and in the absence of an explicit law, then there is need to ensure the constitutional right of a person is upheld when it comes to fundamental rights across the Bill of Rights.

For instance, Article 29 speaks to the freedom and security of the person while article 29 (b) outlaws detainment without trial and provides an exception during a state of emergency governed within the dictates of Article 58 and International law, including, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Despite the change being slow, we all have a role to play to achieve this. It is time we brought out issues facing our communities by staying active as this is part of being a mzalendo (patriot).