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Extrajudicial killings big blot on president's legacy as reign ends

President Uhuru Kenyatta at a past event. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

With President Uhuru Kenyatta’s reign ending, cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have blotted his legacy.

For the 10 years he has been in office, several people have been killed under unclear circumstances while others like businessman Dafton Mwitiki, security analyst Mwenda Mbijiwe and a friend Mathew Muhatia Namasaka are still missing.

The killings and enforced disappearances have almost similar hallmarks. Curiously, most of the victims either had a brush with the law, pending court cases, questionable backgrounds or were on police watchlists.

Figures gleaned by The Standard from reports by human rights groups show that more than 1,000 people could have been killed since 2013 when Uhuru assumed power.

The latest victims of summary executions were six young men suspected to have been involved in fraudulent activities. The bodies of Fred Obare, Frank Obegi, Joseph Njau, Perminus Wanjohi, Elija Omeka and Moses Nyachae were found in different locations after they went missing on different dates last month.

Like similar murders in the past, the killers of the six may never be known.  

Alarmed with the killings, Amnesty International Kenya is now calling on the next government to put a break to these killings.

“The next administration must place all institutions and especially, the National Police Service, on notice that they are prohibited from undertaking extrajudicial killings, forced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment,” says Irungu Houghton, Amnesty International Kenya executive director.

In 2015, the Kenyan government committed before the UN Human Rights Council to thoroughly investigate all extrajudicial killings besides enlightening military and police officers about human rights principles.

“Despite persistent documentation by the Missing Voices Coalition, media and Independent Police Oversight Authority, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have not been eliminated or reduced. In contrast, the 2021 figures show a 20 per cent increase from 2020,” notes Irungu.

The Amnesty International boss is challenging the administration that shall succeed Kenyatta’s government to operationalise the Prevention of Torture Act, the National Coroners Service Act and the Victim Protection Trust Fund.

“Only this will return public trust in the law enforcement agencies that they serve the law and that they are not above the law,” says Irungu.

Between 2013 and 2016, Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) documented 612 deaths. The Standard was unable to obtain from the lobby group, a breakdown of these figures.

From 2017 to last month of this year, another 424 men among them Obare, Obegi, Omeka, Nyachae, Njau and Wanjohi have been killed after disappearing. This brings to 1,036, the total number of people mysteriously killed since 2013. 

Based on human rights groups reports, 2017 having been an election year, recorded the highest number of killings close to 152.

The human rights watchdogs blamed police for the deaths with Thomas Minito, the Churo Amaiya MCA, Baringo County, being one of the victims. His body was retrieved from Ol Donyo Sabuk bridge.

In a joint report released that year, IMLU, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said at least 67 people were killed countrywide during the first round of voting with most of the victims either being shot or beaten to death by police in Nairobi and western Kenya.

During the repeat presidential election, Human Rights Watch documented 37 more killings, ostensibly carried out by police in Mathare, Kibra, Kariobangi, Embakasi, Kawangware, Kangemi and Dandora.

Human Rights Watch and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) claimed police officers and pro-government militia were responsible for the deaths.

The human rights groups said the list was not exhaustive since many families and survivors of were afraid to come and openly talk about the alleged police brutality. They faulted relevant authorities including Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) for failing to hold to account officers involved in killings.

“People have a right to protest peacefully, and Kenyan authorities should urgently put a stop to police abuse and hold those responsible to account,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In Kisumu, Baby Pendo was hit by a blunt object on the head after riot police officers stormed their Nyalenda house. An inquest into the killing of Pendo found police were culpable for the baby’s death.

Resident Magistrate Beryl Omollo said evidence adduced in court overwhelmingly indicted the police. The court however ruled that it was a heavy task to identify the officer involved.

But as Kenyans struggled to come to terms with the aftermath of the elections, killings continued. Twenty-one suspected criminals were allegedly killed by police in Dandora and Mathare between 2018 and 2019, according to Human Rights Watch.

And last year, civil society organizations under the umbrella Missing Voices Coalition in a report released early this year, linked police to 187 deaths. The report dubbed ‘Delayed Justice’, said victims first went missing before the bodies were found.

Contractor Bashir Mohamed Bashir, the Kitengela Four Elijah Obuong, Benjamin Amache, Brian Oduor and Jack Ochieng are some of the victims who went missing before being found dead last year.

Early this year, 27 bodies were retrieved from River Yala in Siaya County. Most of the bodies bore similar torture marks and were either stashed in gunny bags or tied with ropes.

“What is shocking and extremely disturbing is that these bodies are actually dumped by individuals who so far remain unknown,” said Hussein Khalid, executive director Haki Africa after conducting a fact-finding mission.

The River Yala discoveries raised eyebrows among human rights activists. “Our assessment is that this is the work of organised killer gangs,” said Peter Kiama, IMLU’s executive director.

Though cops were the first suspects, police spokesman Bruno Shiosho exonerated them from blame. “Police officers are not involved in these killings as it is being alleged. We follow the laid down legal procedures of arresting and presenting suspects in courts,” said Shiosho.