Rights groups push war on police cruelty

Members of the Dandora Justice Centre sing their anthem November 7 last year/ EZEKIEL AMING’A
Members of the Dandora Justice Centre sing their anthem November 7 last year/ EZEKIEL AMING’A

Social justice centers have emerged as the new face of the push against extrajudicial killings in the country, ensuring watertight evidenc.

Extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances are still ripe in the country despite the much touted reforms in the criminal justice system by the Jubilee administration.

Most of the killings are by police officers or agents of the state targeting perceived criminals and are prevalent in low income settlements such as Obunga slums, Kondele, Manyatta in Kisumu, Mathare, Dandora, Kibera and Mukuru slums in Nairobi.

Mombasa county and the entire Coast region have also had rampant cases of forced disappearance of youths and sometimes broad day light shooting of the perceived criminals in the streets by the police.

But social justice centers have double down on their efforts to curb the killings in these areas through innovative ways that ensure they effectively collect and collate evidence information about the shooting or disappearance and compile them into evidences.

The conviction of former Ruaraka OCS Nahashon Mutua for killing a suspect Martin Koome while in custody and framing another suspect for it is an example of the stellar work the centers are doing.

Wilfred Olal, the convener of ten social justice centers in Nairobi slums told the Star that their presence at the grass root level has encouraged the families of the victims to come out and speak, often providing an alternative narrative to that of the police.

"In most cases of extrajudicial killings, the police often are the first to speak to the media alleging that the deceased are thugs and that they were armed," he said, adding that "in the past, the media would report it that way and it stops there."

But now the justice centers have enabled the families to access the media and speak out about their killed loved ones, he said. The centers he helped establish in May last year operate in Dandora, Mathare, Kibera, Kamukunji, Kiambio in Eastlands near BuruBuru, Kayole, Mukuru, Githurai, Korogocho slum areas.

Only last month, the police shot dead Carilton Maina, a Leeds University student at Kibera slums, accusing him of being part of a criminal gang that had been terrorizing the residents. Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet have since ordered a probe into the killing. Ipoa is also investigating it.

Olal said the centers have a working relationship and support from established human right lobby groups such as International Justice Mission and Transparency International who help in guiding the centers on the best way of collating the evidences.

In the Nahashon Mutua case, the local juctice centers in Korogocho slums that covers the larger Ruaraka area documented the events surrounding the case and reached out to the victim's family. It then engaged IJM to take the investigations forward. The rigorous work of the global rights lobby ensured that the case Ipoa presented in court was compelling enough to nail the powerful police boss.

Dandora Community Justice Center is one such justice centers covering Mathare and Dandora informal dwelling areas.

It stood out when it meticulously documented the police shooting of six men in Dandora phase II in July last year and forwarded the files to IJM and Ipoa.

Early this month, Ipoa, which exercises oversight on the police operations, said in a statement that it is probing a total of 190 cases of extrajudicial killings in the country, including one where police officers allegedly shot a mechanic in Mathare slums, followed him to the clinic where he was receiving treatment and took him away. He was only to be found in City mortuary later.

Olal said their approach in combating the lawless executions is multi-pronged with an end target of having the slum communities be informed and empowered.

"We work with the communities to identify the challenges they go through and empower them in a bid to be less vulnerable to crime or confrontation with the police,' he said.

"We also invest in working with the communities against sexual and gender-based violence, environmental safety and sustainability, and drug abuse," he said.

Olal said the social justice centers also campaign against tribalism and negative ethnicity in the areas.

Another dynamism of the centers is that they help Ipoa to identify the families to record statement and even act as witnesses.

"Initially, the families would be asked to report to Ipoa by themselves, exposing them to victimization and hence they would refrain," he Olal added.

The centers have bridged this gap, providing the families and witnesses with the conducive and friendly environment to come out. The centers also provide psycho-social support to the families.

Ipoa spokeman Dennis Okech said the authority have managed to secure six convictions with other 30 cases still pending before the court, a feat that could be linked to this new strategy.

It has investigated a total of 292 cases since its inception.

Hussein Khalid, the executive director of Haki Africa told the Star the civil societies have been at the forefront of confronting the arbitrary killing of suspected criminals and have had to first have the government acknowledge that it is challenge.

"At the coast alone, we have 68 social justice organizations that work to pursue the cases, even minute ones, documenting the evidence as we work with Ipoa," he said.

"As Haki Africa, we have managed to bring the interior CS Dr. Fred Matiang'i and the DPP Noordin Haji down to the Coast to explain to them the challenges the resident go through at the had of the police. They also acknowledged that extrajudicial executions are happening, " he added.

"The police tend to claim that those they have killed were notorious thugs or they had dangerous weapons and hence had to be neutered," he added.

To confront this, Khalid noted that his outfit managed to get the interior CS Matiang'i to assert that summary execution of suspects is a not a policy of the government.

The law requires that every shooting that the police does must be investigated to determine their probity.

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