POLICE BRUTALITY

Securitising Covid-19 regulations enforcement misplaced

Covid-19 pandemic will only be won by pulling together and involving everyone in ensuring good health, safety and security of all.

In Summary

• Last week’s announcement by the President of the formation of the Special Enforcement Unit deserves singling out and condemnation. It gives more power to rights abusers.

• Police have time and again failed to enforce the regulations and instead used them to harass, intimidate, torture and even kill Kenyans in the name of enforcement.

Police in Mombasa forcefully disperse human rights activists protesting alleged Covid-19 funds theft on August 20.
NECESSARY FORCE? Police in Mombasa forcefully disperse human rights activists protesting alleged Covid-19 funds theft on August 20.
Image: BRIAN OTIENO

The much-dreaded second wave of Covid-19 is upon us.

We were aptly warned of it by health officials and told that it would be worse than the first.

So far, it has lived up to expectations and the situation looks grim. 

In Kenya, as in with the rest of the world, record numbers of infections and deaths are being reported. Hospitals are full beyond capacity as more and more rush to get medical attention. Home-based care is being encouraged and local remedies are being employed by many to treat the illness.

Thus far, it would be unfair not to commend the government, particularly the Health ministry and other stakeholders for the work done in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

While we are appalled by the corruption and mismanagement of Covid-19 funds, we are also cognisant of the fact that considerable steps have been taken by the government to curb the spread of the virus and promote the health and safety of Kenyans

However, as we commend the positive steps taken, last week’s announcement by the President of the formation of the Special Enforcement Unit deserves singling out and condemnation for being one of the worst anti-Covid-19 decisions made so far.

As human rights groups and individuals working at the grassroots in various parts of the country mostly affected by Covid-19, we have received the announcement with apprehension and worry.

SEU comprises of officers from the regular police, NGAAF and Inspectorate (from the counties). These entities are meant to ensure Covid-19 regulations are fully adhered to by all, including politicians.

It has been slightly over a week since the unit began operating and already, human rights groups such as HAKI Africa are receiving high numbers of complaints from wananchi of unlawful arrests, harassment, corruption and torture all in the name of enforcing Covid-19 regulations.

As human rights defenders, our experience on the ground is that security agencies, particularly the police, have time and again failed to enforce the regulations and instead used them to harass, intimidate, torture and even kill Kenyans in the name of enforcement.

It is public knowledge how people have suffered during this pandemic at the hands of security agencies. There are numerous cases of wanton violations, which include the killing of 13-year-old Yassin Moyo.

Besides violating human rights, thus far, police have also applied double standards in enforcing the regulations. They have time and again prevented civil society groups from holding peaceful protests against Covid-19 millionaires.

But they have allowed politicians to hold massive rallies in outright violation of the directives. Politicians have in the past few weeks held rallies and public meetings across the country, which have directly contributed to rising infections in the second wave.

As human rights organisations, our call to the Executive has been not to securitise Covid-19.

The pandemic has social, economic, and political as well as security considerations and enforcement of any guidelines must bring on board all the stakeholders.

Reducing Covid-19 to a security issue alone is not only detrimental to the containment of the pandemic but will also cause unnecessary fear and distress to a population already suffering from the disease.

If left to continue to operate as announced, SEU will cause more harm than good to Kenyans. It is possible that the unit could replicate Nigeria’s SARS, which has been roundly condemned for massive human rights violations, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

We have numerous cases presently before court where police have been accused of using excessive force. To ignore these cases and again place the responsibility of enforcement on the same officers is not only insensitive but also encourages impunity by the police to continue violating rights.

Kenyans have been steadfast so far in their efforts to fight the pandemic. The government and politicians should complement these efforts by ensuring sound policies and practices are in place to tackle it.

The pandemic will only be overcome by pulling together and involving everyone in ensuring good health, safety and security for all.