State of impunity, rights violation worrying, says lobby

Human Rights Watch cites blatant disregard for the rule of law.

In Summary

• The report claims that victims of impunity and political violence are left without justice as their violators walk scot-free.

• Security agencies are even more emboldened by this state of affair, committing extrajudicial killings.

Respect for human rights and rule of law is on a steady decline in Kenya since 2013, a global human rights watchdog report says.

In its annual global rights outlook, Human Rights Watch says impunity and blatant disregard for the rule of law have been on a surge while the space for objective journalism, protests and demonstrations are worryingly shrinking. 

The report released in New York on Tuesday says over 100 people were killed by the police during the 2017-18 electioneering period but no one has been brought to justice.

Even where lawful institutions found state operatives to have been involved in one way or another in meting out injustice to the people, no actions have been taken, it says.

"A government inquest into the killings of nine-month-old baby Samantha Pendo in Kisumu and nine-year-old Stephanie Moraa in Nairobi found at least five senior police commanders and other government officials responsible for the abuses, but authorities had yet to hold anyone to account for the killings and other violations in the election period," the report says.

The report also cited the 2007-08 post-election violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and another 600,000 displaced, saying no action to investigate or hold to account perpetrators has happened.

Instead, the report says, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto presided over relentless campaign to discredit the International Criminal Court that was trying them in a bid to jeopardise the wheels of justice. 

The two leaders oversaw a massive state non-corporation with the court amidst witness tampering allegation that eventually chocked life out of the cases without accountability, the report says

"Kenya has yet to surrender three persons wanted by the ICC on allegations of witness tampering in cases relating to the 2007-08 election violence," it says.

Human Rights Watch says the collapse in 2014 of the ICC cases sowed the seed of impunity and disregard for the rule of law.

Citing reports that police watchdog Ipoa had only secured three convictions of senior police officers since its inception in 2012, the report says the agency is immensely underfunded, hence has limited capacity to effectively execute its mandate amidst interference from quarters opposed to civilian police oversight. 

This has jeopardised exhaustive investigation and led to rampant extrajudicial killings reported in Nairobi's informal settlements, it said. 

"..... the institution appears overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the cases and undermined by the lack of cooperation police. The institution secured convictions against just three officers since it started working in 2012, media reported," the report reads in part. 

Shrinking protest space

It says the space for protesters airing divergent views and asking hard questions have decidedly been on a decline, citing cases where peaceful protesters who had legitimately served notice to the authorities were violently dispersed by the police since Uhuru rose to power.

For example, the agency says it documented a pattern of harassment, intimidation and other abuses of at least 35 environmental activists in Lamu over the past five years.

At the same time, it said, security forces in Lamu have repeatedly broken up protests, restricted public meetings and threatened, arrested and prosecuted activists on different charges, including terrorism. The activists were protesting potential environmental and health concerns related to projects associated with the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor (Lapsset) project.

Lapsset is the largest infrastructure project planned in East Africa. It includes a port in Lamu, three international airports, a road and railway network, resort cities and a coal-fired power plant.

The rampant violent dispersal of protesters as well as arrests of activists, it said, have not been helped by the government's move to publish a bill in March last year that would make it harder to picket and protest.

The report asserts that the state has refused to investigate and hold culprits to account for physical attacks and harassment that journalists, bloggers and other news workers have endured.