New report links police force to 113 civilian deaths and 121 injuries

NANHRI Executive Director Gilbert Sebihogo and Li Fung during the launch of the report. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

More than 100 civilians were killed by police in 2021, a new report shows.

The report titled ‘The Use of Lethal Force by the Police in Kenya (2021)’ by the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions shows that 113 Kenyans died in the hands of police officers in different circumstances.

Out of the 113 victims whose deaths were attributed to police, 80 were civilians shot dead by police, 11 were suspects who died in police custody, three others were passers-by who were shot dead in the crossfire between suspects and the police.

The report said police have devised other means of killing civilians as 19 other victims were killed through other means, other than firearms.

The report further shows that there were 121 victims who were injured by police out of whom 21 were injured by police gunfire while 100 others were wounded through other means other than firearm.

However, the report identified an imbalance between the injuries and victim fatalities which was attributed to a pattern of excessive use of force by the police, in terms of which many more people ended up dead rather than injured. “There is a higher likelihood of reporting of deceased victims when compared with those injured, which means that the level of underreporting would be much higher for injured civilians,” it says.

Nairobi and Mombasa cities were found to have the highest deaths of 32 and 15 respectively. The two counties also had the highest reported incidents where police used lethal force against civilians, with Mombasa having 25 cases while 56 incidents were reported in Nairobi in 2021.

“The number of victims shot and killed by the police was the highest in the main metropolitan areas such as Nairobi and Mombasa, which is to be expected owing to their larger populations,” reads the report.

The network’s Executive Director Gilbert Sebihogo said the report recommended a study to explore why the two regions rank highly in use of lethal force by police. Apart from the two counties referred to, Baringo and Taita Taveta also exceed the 0.50 level, which is already three times higher than the national average.

The killings and non-fatal injuries were attributed to public demonstrations, robbery, enforcement of Covid regulations, suspected terrorism as well forced disappearances or extrajudicial killings. According to the report, the police executions mostly happened on Mondays and Thursdays and the numbers were high in May 2021. The study was done in collaboration with four Kenya-based institutions namely the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), the Independent Medical-Legal Unit (IMLU), and the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC). Out of the four institutions that participated in the study, IPOA was the main source of the reported cases out of the total incidents episodes on use of lethal force by the police. Of the 162 episodes, IPOA had 106 followed by IMLU with 79 cases, MSJC with 15 cases while KNCHR highlighted 11 cases of police brutality.

However, the report indicates that the actual number of cases were in all likelihood higher than the 162 recorded by all the institutions and that there was no proper participation by other institutions particularly at the local level. “The most relevant result here is that the IPOA did not receive about one-third of the cases, which were recorded by other institutions. This means that the IPOA records were a significant underestimation due to under-reporting,” reads the report.

Jennifer Omae from MSJC said the youth form the majority of the police killings adding that suffocation and beating are among the new tactics police are using to kill civilians.

“Investigations and collection of evidence has been the major gap in successful prosecution of these cases. IPOA may delay to investigate and evidence get tampered with and witness disappear,” said Omae.

She added: “Police carry out illegal dealings with the young people and when the deals go wrong, they ae eliminated the young people cover for themselves.”

However, Omae said the cases of police killings have reduced in the informal sector. The report did not provide data on the number of NPS officers involved in the incidents.

“The number of guns seized and of arrests is something that only the NPS would have, but they have not made any information available regarding these aspects. Likewise, there are no available data on police officers killed or injured,” it reads further. As the holder of the monopoly on legitimate violence, the network said the state is entitled to use force to protect people’s rights and to uphold the law.

“The excessive use of force by police is a challenge shared by most African countries. Unfortunately, use of force in Africa is rarely documented and when it is, the data is often unavailable,” reads the part.

Kenya’s National Police Service (NPS) Act of 2011 provides that the use of force by the police is warranted only when non-violent means are ineffective. The gaps in prosecution of violation of human rights were also identified in the report indicating that the criminal justice system appears to be unable to prosecute and sentence law enforcement officers who use force inappropriately.

Inability to successfully prosecute cases was attributed to the difficulty in obtaining evidence, especially where the victim is deceased and people being afraid to testify against public officials.