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Inadequate Kenyan Police Response to Brutal Killing of Non-Binary Lesbian

Murder of Sheila Adhiambo Lumumba Sparks #JusticeForSheila

Sheila Adhiambo Lumumba, a 25-year-old Kenyan non-binary lesbian, was found murdered and naked in their bedroom in Karatina, north of Nairobi on April 17. A postmortem report conducted the next day at Karatina Sub-County Hospital and seen by Human Rights Watch revealed that Lumumba was sexually assaulted, hit on the head with a blunt object, and stabbed in the chest, face, neck, and eyes. Police have yet to properly investigate.

© Sheila Adhiambo Lumumba/Instagram

Lumumba’s cousin, Brenda Akinyi, told Human Rights Watch that the family is desperate to receive the results of a toxicology report that they requested; they are also hoping that Lumumba was unconscious during the attack. According to Akinyi, Lumumba’s cousins are investigating the murder themselves because police failed to update the family on case developments. After police claimed they had thoroughly searched the crime scene, Lumumba’s family members said they found a knife and razor blade in their bedroom. A family friend found CCTV footage of Lumumba leaving a bar with three men on her last night alive.

In the face of inadequate police response, lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) activists started a campaign for justice and circulated a photo on social media of Lumumba in their jean jacket: vibrant, stylish, and alive. By the start of Lesbian Visibility Week (April 25 to May 1), #JusticeForSheila was trending in Kenya.

Kenya’s laws forbidding consensual same-sex relations contribute to a climate of discrimination and violence. In 2019, Kenya’s high court upheld two colonial-era laws criminalizing homosexuality on grounds that activists who petitioned the court “failed to prove that the provisions are discriminatory.”  

Kenya’s laws and policies against sexual and gender-based violence do not explicitly mention LBQ people, nor does Kenya’s National Policy on Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence mention murder as a form of gender-based violence. This renders both the extent of the brutality and the unique targeting that Lumumba experienced as a lesbian invisible under Kenya’s current policies.

Police should immediately conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into Lumumba’s murder, and Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the National Police Service Commission should release statements condemning the attack. The government should also replace its discriminatory laws banning homosexuality, and reform the country’s gender-based violence policies to protect the rights of LBQ people.

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