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Another Kenya Election, More Abuses

Authorities Should Investigate Scale of Police Abuses During October Elections

An opposition supporter gestures in front of policemen during clashes in Kawangware slum in Nairobi, Kenya October 30, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

On October 26, Kenya held its second presidential election two months after the Supreme Court nullified the results of the August 8 polls after a successful legal challenge by the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga. The vote was held in a tense environment after Odinga boycotted the election – citing lack of faith in the electoral body – and urged his supporters to stay home on voting day.

On October 30, Uhuru Kenyatta was once again proclaimed the winner – but the result was quickly rejected by Odinga and his supporters. Okiya Omtatah, an activist, has asked the Supreme Court to nullify the election, arguing it was voided by Odinga’s withdrawal.

As in the August vote, the repeat elections were marred by violent protests, killings, and beatings in key opposition strongholds along the coast, and the western and eastern parts of Kenya. Police appear to have, again, used excessive force on protesters in opposition strongholds, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries.

While the full extent of the violence is still unclear, credible sources indicate the casualties appear to be in the dozens. A Kenyan human rights body announced on Wednesday that police killed 13 people before, during, and after the October 26 vote. The Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) documented violations, and said police responded to riots using indiscriminate force, especially in opposition strongholds.

So far, Kenyan police have grossly underestimated the scale of the abuses this year. On Thursday, they publicly acknowledged that 19 people were killed around the two votes; but Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that during the August poll, police killed at least 33 people, possibly as many as 50, and injured hundreds more in some parts of Nairobi alone.

But with the possibility of more protests looming, the best thing Kenyan authorities can do is take reports of abuses seriously. That means giving clear instructions to police to respect the law and investigating all alleged killings, injuries, and unlawful use of force by officers during both votes and hold those responsible for abuses to account. These are crucial steps, not only for the victims of police violence, but also to ensure Kenyans can exercise their right to express their political views and grievances.

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