Skip to main content

Letter to Inspector General of Police Regarding Unlawful Killings by Police

Mr Hillary Nzioka Mutyambai,
Inspector General,
National Police Service,
Jogoo House, Harambee Avenue,
P.O Box 30083,
Nairobi, Kenya

July 10, 2019


Dear sir,

I write on behalf of Human Rights Watch, first, to congratulate you for your appointment as the Inspector General of police last April and, secondly, to request a meeting to introduce our work in Kenya, particularly our more recent findings on killings by police of young people in informal settlements of Nairobi.

As you may already know, Human Rights Watch is an independent nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights developments in more than 90 countries around the world. We have monitored and investigated human rights issues in Kenya for more than 25 years. Human Rights Watch is committed to producing material that is balanced and objective.

Between April and May this year, Human Rights Watch researched the reported killings by police in Dandora and Mathare, particularly the killings of April 2019, October 2018 and August 2018. We interviewed 35 people including witnesses, family members of victims, medical and social workers and activists. We appreciate the input of the spokesperson of the National Police Service, whose perspectives have been incorporated into the findings. We are glad to share a summary of our findings with your office here.

Summary of Findings

Human Rights Watch found that, since August 2018, police have shot dead, apparently unlawfully, at least 21 men and boys whom they alleged were criminals in Nairobi’s Dandora and Mathare neighborhoods alone. Rights activists in those neighborhoods believe that, based on the cases they know about and those reported in the media, police have unlawfully killed many more in the past year. Under Kenyan and international law, the police should only intentionally use lethal force when it is strictly unavoidable to protect life.

Details of Killings  

  • In April 2019, over a span of just three days, police in Mathare shot dead seven men who they said were involved in crime, without apparent justification for using lethal force. The men were not armed, did not resist arrest, and had either surrendered or were being held by the officers at the time of the killing.
  • In the first incident on April 14, police shot dead Kevin Gitau, 25. On April 17, police shot six men in the Mlango Kubwa area, including a 17-year-old boy. In all the cases, witnesses said the victims were shot either when kneeling in front of the police on the streets or in the custody of the police after being arrested.
  • In another incident on April 17, about six police officers raided the home of 17-year-old Benson Kavindo in the Mlango Kubwa neighborhood and accused him of theft. Benson pleaded for his life and said he was not a thief, and witnesses say police dragged him out of the house and shot him dead just a few meters away from the house. The same morning around 5 a.m., the police killed three other boys and men, ages 17 to 25, who lived in the streets of Mathare, as they are homeless. Mathare residents said two of the victims spent their time combing through a small dumpsite in Mlango Kubwa. Police also killed a fourth man around the same time in Mathare and carried his body away.
  • On the morning of October 26, police pursued two suspected robbers to Dandora Phase Four. A police statement to the media later that day said the suspects had ambushed a motorcycle taxi driver, robbed him of his motorbike and raped his passenger before they escaped. According to witnesses we interviewed, police tracked the suspects to a hideout and shot one of them dead and pursued the second as he escaped over rooftops. The suspect fell into a house when one of the rooftops caved in, and the police who were pursuing him arrived at the scene and shot and killed him on the spot. Police pulled out three men who had been sleeping in the house that collapsed into an open ground out of the house. The three were kneeling outside, as commanded by the officers, surrounded by six armed officers when a female officer from Kinyago arrived and shot the kneeling men, who were not among the thieves the police were pursuing, dead. The three were David Kariuki, a 38-year-old seller of used shoes, and his two nephews Peter Mwangi, a 22-year-old student at Kisii University and John Gathufatu, a 17-year-old secondary school student.
  • Moments later that same morning, the same female officer, witnesses said, shot a fourth victim, 22-year-old Samuel Musili, a student at Dandora Secondary school, who had climbed a tree in the neighboring compound to witness the killings of the three men. She ordered him to climb down from the tree and kneel, then shot him in the head.
  • On August 28, just after noon, two officers from Kinyago police station in Dandora raided a makeshift scrap metal shop near the dump and killed the owner, Alex Githuku Macharia, 34, together with four other men: Jacob Chege Kaberi, 24; Davis Tekei, a 21-year-old employee of Githuku’s at the scrap metal shop; 22-year-old Fredrick Ochieng, and a 29-year public minibus conductor, Vincent Mandu Oduor. One of the police officers demanded that the six men surrender a gun the officer claimed Githuku had. Githuku, who was kneeling alongside the others with hands raised, as the police directed, denied having a gun. A second police officer arrived and opened fire on the men, killing five, but the sixth man escaped. Although police later told the media they recovered several guns from the men, witnesses said the men had no guns when they were killed by police and had not resisted arrest.
  • In addition to our findings, we would like to draw your attention to the many media reports about similar killings of suspects without apparent justification. In October 2018, the Star newspaper reported that police in Dandora, Mathare and Majengo killed at least 17 people in a seven- day period. The same month the Daily Nation reported that police killed at least 101 people in Nairobi and more than 180 people across Kenya in a nine-month period.

Lack of investigation

Human Rights Watch found that in most of these killings, police have routinely failed to cooperate with the investigative agencies. In each of the 21 killings in Dandora and Mathare, for example, police failed to prepare preliminary reports about the killings for sharing with the oversight agency and the Internal Affairs Unit. Such reports are required under the law. The police also failed to conduct an inquest in each of the killings as required by law.

Issues to Discuss

In view of the above, we would wish to discuss a range of emerging issues in respect of these killings, including the following:

  • What is the National Police Service doing in ensuring justice in the case of the 21 killings in Dandora and Mathare that we have documented?
  • We are concerned that there appears to be a shoot to kill policy by police in Nairobi’s informal settlements, in violation of the law, and we would like to better understand what informs this policy.
  • What is the National Police Service doing to ensure police officers follow the law and cooperate with those investigating any killings linked with police?
  • In one incident in Dandora, we found that police commanders had threatened witnesses. What is the National Police Service doing to ensure witnesses to the killings are not harassed, threatened or eliminated?

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country