Rights groups claim Ruto ignored promise on extra-judicial killings

IMLU executive director Peter Kiama (left) with Wilfred Happy Olal during the release of the report on police brutality. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The civil society has raised concern over rising cases of extra-judicial killings under the Kenya Kwanza administration that rode to power on the platform of zero-tolerance to human rights violations.

The promise to respect fundamental rights, according to human rights groups rating the performance of President William Ruto’s government one year in power, has been broken with numerous cases of extra-judicial killing, enforced disappearance and torture being recorded.

Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) recorded 128 extra-judicial killings between October 1, 2022 and August 31, 2023. The executions contradict Ruto’s vow of protection of human rights.

“I have ordered the disbandment of the SSU (Special Service Unit) of the police that was arbitrarily executing Kenyans. That is the history we want to forget. Let our competitors not remind us of the many things they did against this country,” said the President on October 16 during an interdenominational prayer service at Kericho Green Stadium.

To demonstrate his resolve, Ruto went ahead and ordered Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss Amin Mohamed to disband SSU, which was linked to extra-judicial killings, and dumping of bodies in rivers and forests.

Since then, the trend of people disappearing and their bodies discovered later, has not stopped according to IMLU, which is pointing an accusing finger at security agencies.

“In the past year, we have witnessed a wave of punitive policing during protests, extrajudicial executions, deaths in custody, deliberate torture of children, interference with investigative authorities, unconstitutional interference of National Police Service and other human rights violations,” said IMLU executive director Peter Kiama.

Apart from the 128 summary executions, IMLU also recorded three enforced disappearances and 351 cases of torture. In total, they documented 482 cases of torture and related violations (TRVs). This was an increase of 250 TVRs compared to 232 violations recorded between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2022.

“Unfortunately, our data reveals a troubling trend from October 1, 2022 to August 31, 2023. We documented 482 cases of torture and related violations, more than double the cases documented in a similar period between 2021 and 2022,” said Kiama Thursday.

The findings by IMLU show most victims and survivors were young male adults aged between 18 and 35, accounting for 314, followed by those between 36 and 65 years who constituted 121 while those below 17 years were 44 and three victims above the age of 65. Of the 482 victims, 67 were female.

“The significant increase in cases of torture and related violations from 232 in the previous year to 482 in the period from October 2022 to August 2023, indicates a failure to curb police abuse of power including excessive, unnecessary, illegal and disproportionate use of force and firearms. This alarming rise not only shows a lack of progress but also suggests that the situation has worsened,” noted Kiama.

Concerned that majority of the victims are youth constituting about 65 per cent, the IMLU boss accused the Head of State of failing to keep his promise to protect young people from police brutality.

“The data implies that the President’s efforts to address police abuse and protect urban youth have fallen short, as evidenced by the increase in TRVs and demographic profile of the victims. This situation calls for a critical re-evaluation of the strategies and measures put in place to fulfil the promises made regarding police reforms and youth protection,” said Kiama.

IMLU’s indictment came hours after Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), Katiba Institute, Transparency International-Kenya and International Court of Justice-Kenya rated poorly Kenya Kwanza’s first year in office, citing arbitrary arrests, and killings.

Additionally, the rights defenders said they have been unjustly targeted through threats and profiling in an attempt to curtail their civic freedom.

While giving their assessment, the human rights groups said Kenya Kwanza had performed dismally on matters touching on the protection of fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

In a joint statement, they said Kenya Kwanza’s first year in office has been marked by a host of unfulfilled promises, an enduring culture of impunity, and a continuation of campaign-style governance similar to that of the previous administration.

The groups said they are concerned about the police brutality which undermines the principles of democracy and hinder free exchange of ideas essential for a vibrant and progressive society.

“The deployment of police to suppress protests was perceived as an endorsement by the political leadership to employ excessive force, including injuring and killing protesters,” the statement read.