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Human rights group decries police violence

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Police action to control opposition rallies during 2001 was often sponsored by government and ruling party officials, according to a recently released report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Some "high-ranking government and ruling [Kenyan African National Union] party officials continued unabated to sponsor or permit violence against opposition activists, with police cracking down on government critics in numerous incidents", the human rights watchdog said in its World Report 2002. See www.hrw.org

Fears have risen in recent months that harassment of opposition figures by police and security forces, and apparently increasing inter-ethnic violence, could be used as political tools in the run-up to general elections scheduled for this year, just as happened during the country's multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997, according to regional analysts.

HRW cited in its report the alleged police beating of James Orengo, an MP and leader of Muungano wa Mageuzi (People's Movement for Change), a coalition of opposition and civil society organisations, in Kisii town, western Kenya, in February 2001.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi subsequently accused Mageuzi leaders of plotting to overthrow the government, thus "setting the stage for further police harassment", according to the report.

Moreover, democracy activists had been beaten and arrested in July last year when police violently broke up a Nairobi prayer meeting and political rally commemorating the restoration of multiparty democracy in Kenya, it stated.

Apart from action against political opposition groups, "reports of police corruption, harassment, use of excessive force, and unlawful confinement were routine [during 2001]", HRW added.

The Kenyan police spokesman, Peter Kimanthi, recently rejected a January report by the corruption watchdog Transparency International, which stated that the police force was the most heavily bribed institution in Kenya.

"The report is aimed at besmirching government efforts to fight corruption," the Sunday Nation newspaper of 19 January quoted him as saying.

The extrajudicial executions by police in July of seven suspected criminals "in cold blood and public view" after they were ordered off a public bus had taken place despite a "mounting public outcry" for reform of the police force, according to the US-based human rights group.

Kimanthi has also rejected a recent report from the chief government pathologist, Dr Kirasi Olumbe, which claimed that police had been responsible for 90 percent of people shot dead last year. He told IRIN on 15 January that the police force's official figures for the number of people shot dead by members of the force - but which he did not have available - were "very different" from Olumbe's.

On the positive side, the government's Standing Committee on Human Rights, created by Moi in 1996, stepped up pressure for police reform, and recommended that police officers underwent compulsory human rights training, HRW reported. Most importantly, the Committee in June published a report which alleged that prison wardens had murdered six death-row inmates who died in custody in 2000, it stated.

However, the Committee was subsequently charged with contempt of court for being in breach of judicial rules that prevent comment on a pending case. In addition, a bill to strengthen the independence of the Committee, pending since 2000, had not been considered by parliament as of November 2001, HRW said.

Although a parliamentary motion to establish a truth and reconciliation commission designed to investigate human rights violations since 1966 was debated by Kenyan MPs, it was voted down due to a lack of consensus on the need to confront past abuses, the organisation stated.

The situation regarding freedom of expression in the press and broadcast media was "mixed" during 2001, HRW said. Although newspapers were able to publish free of direct censorship, "police routinely harassed journalists" and, after the beating of a female Nation TV reporter in January, the International Press Institute (IPI) condemned Kenyan police attacks on journalists, it said.

IPI in December expressed concern over proposed media law amendments, which, it said, would have "an adverse effect on media freedom in Kenya".

Some aspects of the proposed amendments would amount to "prepublication censorship of content", and could lead to the "imprisonment of editors, the deregistration of newspapers, and a ban on publishing", it added.

See Full IPI statement at www.freemedia.at

In the background of the human rights situation in Kenya was the ongoing constitutional review process, according to HRW. Although political uncertainty ahead of the 2002 elections meant that constitutional reform was "critical to Kenya's future", the Kenya Constitutional Review Commission had made little progress on substantive issues, it said.

Controversy over the Commission's composition and financing had dissipated the public hopes initially invested in it, it added.

"The repeated efforts of the ruling Kenya African National Union to control the Commission... and to use police to prevent or violently disrupt civic education gatherings or political opposition further dashed public expectations," HRW added.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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