Kenya Human Rights Commission’s work with victims of Extra Judicial Executions

Volume 16, Issue 2  | 
Published 06/11/2019
Martin Mavenjina

The Program Advisor, Transitional Justice, Kenya Human Rights Commission.

By: Martin Mavenjina

Since its registration in January 1994, the Kenya Human Rights Commission has worked closely with numerous victims of systemic gross human rights violations by both state and non-state actors. The KHRC’s work on Security Governance over the past couple of years has been through advocacy, policy and legislative initiatives, research, documentation, strategic engagement with the media, and also through strategic impact litigation. At the centre of all these advocacy initiatives has been our work with victims of Extra Judicial Executions, specifically women, youth and children who have borne the brunt of excesses by Kenya’s Police. For over a decade now, the Police in Kenya have been accused of unlawfully killing citizens through the use of lethal force while discharging their responsibilities and duties. This has usually occurred in situations like maintaining law and order, public order management, routine patrols within different neighbourhoods, specifically informal settlements and during Elections.

In a 2011 publication titled The Police, The People, The Politics: Police Accountability in Kenya( the KHRC documented several cases of unlawful killings where the police had allegedly been accused of abuse of due process and extra judicial execution of suspects. One such case is that of Benson Mutua Maundu who was allegedly shot dead after being arrested by Police Officers. On 25 December 2003, police shot and killed Benson Mutua Maundu, a thirteen year old boy at Dr Krapf Primary School in Maringo Estate, Nairobi. Witnesses said police arrested Mutua, handcuffed him and dragged him to the school compound where they executed him. Benson’s sisters said she saw the police officers beating up her brother before opening fire on him when he was still handcuffed. The police shot six bullets into his body and would later claim that Benson had been part of a gang that had shot dead a policeman a month before.

In 2007 the violence that ensued following the announcement of the results for the Presidential Election in 2007 led to sporadic scenes of violence in some parts of Kenya. Over 1200 people including women and youth lost their lives while many others were either displaced or lost their property. Reports by the KHRC’s Election Observers disclosed that police officers used excessive force to disperse peaceful protestors and as a result, many youth and women died of gunshot wounds.

 More recently, during the 2017 General Elections, about 33 Kenyans lost their lives as a result of excessive force used by the Police. Some of these victims died as a result of gunshot wounds while others died when fleeing from peaceful demonstrations that were forcefully dispersed. Most of these deaths occurred in informal settlements and the Kenyan Police have been implicated in most of these cases.  This was after demonstrators took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the entire Electoral process, specifically the results of the Presidential Election that would later be annulled by the Supreme Court. Armed with batons, tear gas and guns, the Police descended on these peaceful demonstrators and forcefully dispersed them. The most notable case documented by the KHRC was that of baby Samantha Pendo, a sixth month old baby who died in a very painful way after police officers crashed her head as she was cradled by her mother. Five senior police officers have since been found culpable for unlawfully causing her death and the Director of Public Prosecutions has since been requested to prefer charges against them. On 21 December 2018, Carilton David Maina, a 23 year old student at Leeds University was shot dead by police officers who claimed he was among a group of thugs that was terrorising residents. Maina was chased by police officers, cornered and shot four times in the chest.

KHRC has instituted strategic impact litigation cases on behalf of victims of Extra Judicial Killings that have occurred as a direct result of unlawful use of excessive force by the Police in the context of Elections. In 2011, the Commission filed a suit on behalf of over five thousand internally displaced persons who had lost their loved ones as a direct result of excessive force used by the Police during the 2007 Post Election Violence. The KHRC in this case sought to hold the Kenyan Government liable for failing to ensure that citizens were safe following the violence that ensued. Seven years down the road, the High Court is yet to determine and bring this matter to its logical conclusion. In January 2018, the KHRC applied to be enjoined to a case that was filed by 23 petitioners, the International Justice Mission alongside widows and mothers of 22 young men who were unlawfully shot dead by the Kenyan Police ( petitioners in this case cited 22 incidents where the Police used unlawful force and argued that the Inspector General of Police had not taken any steps to prevent unlawful killings of individuals during police operations. This petition amongst others seeks to have the court compel the President to constitute a commission of inquiry into Extra Judicial Killings by Police Officers.

In November 2017, the KHRC and other civil society partners filed a petition in the High Court challenging the sixth schedule of the National Police Service Act that provides for circumstances when the Police can use force. This was premised on the fact that this legal provision has given the Police unfettered discretion to use excessive force in maintaining law and order. It’s our hope that the use of strategic impact litigation will go a long way in addressing the plight of women and youth who continue to be victims of unlawful executions by the Police.

As a result of numerous advocacy initiatives by the KHRC and other civil society partners in Kenya, there have been some progressive decisions by courts of law in regard to police accountability. The conviction and imprisonment of two Administrative Police Officers in the  Kwekwe Mwandaza case for causing the unlawful death of Kwekwe Mwandaza and more recently the conviction of Titus Ngamau, the former Officer in charge of Ruaraka Police Station who had been found guilty of causing unlawful death of a suspect in his custody, have given victims and widows hope that rogue police officers will be held to account for their actions.

Strategic conversations through convening of community dialogues is another advocacy initiative that the KHRC has employed to great effect in trying to assist victims of extra judicial executions to access justice. Over the last couple of years, the KHRC and partners from the Police Reforms Working Group have convened a series of community dialogues within Nairobi and Mombasa. Dubbed ‘MachoziYaJana Community Dialogues’, a campaign that sought  to give visibility to victims of extra judicial killings; specifically gave women and youth a platform to share their stories and also help them get legal advice on how to hold the perpetrators to account. These dialogues have also been used to counsel women who have either lost their husbands or children to Extra Judicial Executions.

The KHRC has convened numerous peaceful demonstrations to condemn Extra Judicial Executions in Kenya. Following the Extra Judicial Execution of Willie Kimani, his client and his driver, the KHRC, together with other civil society organizations and the law society of Kenya convened a peaceful demonstration to condemn this unlawful killing. These peaceful demonstrations have also been used as an opportunity for the KHRC, Civil Society Organizations and Victims of Extra Judicial Executions to submit petitions to the Inspector General of the National Police Service, the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the President, the National Assembly and the Senate.

At regional and international level, the KHRC has been able to amplify the issue of Extra Judicial Killings at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and also at the United Nations Human Rights Council through the submission of written statements that are usually read at these sessions. These platforms have also been used by the KHRC to convene side events that have been used to share findings of numerous reports and statistics of Extra Judicial Executions in Kenya over the last couple of years. As a result, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) has issued press statements condemning Extra Judicial Executions in Kenya and calling on the Government of Kenya to urgently address this critical issue. KHRC has also participated in and submitted reports, together with other partners during the Universal periodic review of Kenya since 2010. These reports have been used to urge the Government of Kenya to accept specific recommendations on how to address the issue of Extra Judicial Executions and Enforced Disappearances.

The enactment of  progressive pieces of legislation like the National Coroners Service Act and the Prevention of Torture Act   have created a framework for the investigation of mysterious deaths and criminalization of  acts of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The collaborative efforts by the KHRC, the Independent Medical Legal Unit (IMLU) and other civil society organizations with oversight bodies like the Internal Affairs Unit and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority have played a critical role in ensuring that police officers implicated in unlawful killings or misuse of firearms are held accountable.


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