The failure of authorities to address accountability for past abuses by police heightens the risk of police abuse around the August 9, 2022, general elections, Human Rights Watch has said.
Kenya has a history of election-related violence including excessive and unlawful use of force by police, with few, if any, police officers held to account.
Victims’ families, activists, government officials, and police officers have expressed concerns about possible violence if the presidential election results are disputed. In the aftermath of the 2017 elections, Human Rights Watch and other Kenyan and international human rights organizations documented the killings of 104 people by police and armed gangs, most of the victims being supporters of the the-then main opposition party, the National Super Alliance.
With just seven days to another general election, Kenyan authorities have yet to take steps to ensure justice for police abuses that characterised the 2017 general elections or to credibly investigate allegations that police are involved in recent extrajudicial killings.
Between April and June 2022, Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 people, including 15 activists involved in police reform work, three police officers – including a deputy commissioner in charge of operations, one current and two former employees of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority – a state-funded civilian police accountability institution, four journalists who report on police issues, and a mid-level state officer at the national interior ministry.
The majority of those interviewed said they were worried that police will respond abusively to violence or public protests around any election results disputes after the August voting.
Several activists expressed concerns that the elections come at a time when the country is experiencing ongoing extrajudicial killings and disappearances, including those with alleged police involvement.
In its annual report in April 2022, Missing Voices, a coalition of 15 civil society organizations including Human Rights Watch, documented 219 incidents in 2021 alone; 187 killings by police and 32 enforced disappearances.
Kenyan and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have documented excessive use of force by police, including the execution of suspects and innocent bystanders between 2018 and 2020.
Meanwhile, the identities of some individual officers implicated in the killings are known, Kenyan authorities have done little to end these killings. Kenyan authorities have also failed to investigate reports of threats by police against activists calling for accountability.