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Victims of police shooting get their day in court

5 March 2019 - 06:03

By Susan Kendi and Sarah Nyakio

A mature elephant would have calved twice in the time it has taken for a petition seeking justice for police shootings in the post-2007 election crisis to reach a hearing in the High Court.

On Tuesday, March 5, 2019, the High Court in Kisumu will begin hearing testimony from witnesses about how police fired live ammunition on scores of demonstrators protesting against the announcement of 2007 presidential election results. The hearings have been slated to run for three days straight before Judge Fred A Ochieng.

An official count by the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence, chaired by appellate judge Philip Waki in 2008, found that 405 people died from gunshot wounds – most of them shot in the back. Only one police officer, Edward Kirui, reportedly captured on video shooting two protestors in Kisumu -- George Onyango and Ishmael Chacha -- was charged, but the evidence was so mixed up that the court had to discharge him.

In the present case, 15 people, supported by two civil society organisations, filed the petition on September 4, 2014 seeking court orders to compel the government to effectively and independently investigate unlawful police shootings during the crisis, bring those responsible to justice, and compensate victims and survivors.

The case relies on the findings of the Independent Medico-Legal Unit 11 years ago from post-mortem examinations conducted, a review of the autopsy findings, and enumeration of the challenges encountered in investigating and documenting each case. Working with over 12 pathologists, IMLU conducted 80 autopsies in various parts of Kenya for 37 days between January 3, 2008 and February 8, 2008. The other civil society organisation supporting the petition is Citizens Against Violence.

Of the 80 autopsies conducted in Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Molo, Kericho, Bungoma, Webuye and Mumias, only two victims were female -- one being a 12-year-old girl from Kondole, Kisumu.

In each case, IMLU would record incidents of suspicious death, obtain the consent of family members, record witness statements, photograph the body and use the autopsies to recover, identify and preserve material that would be used as evidence.

A public uproar over excessive use of force by state security agencies inspired root-and-branch reform of the police service through a special task force chaired by Justice Philip Ransley. Some of the changes have involved merging the administration and regular police to bring them under a single command; change in training duration and curriculum for police, and the establishment of a civilian Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA). Until 2018, IPOA had secured nine convictions against nine officers out of more than 9,000 complaints about police excesses.

Despite changes in the law, excessive use of force is still rampant in the police service as evidenced by the high number of extra-judicial executions and violent management of public protests.

FACT BOX

February 6 to 28, 2008:  United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights deployed a fact-finding mission (OHCHR Mission) to Kenya to look into the violence and allegations of grave human rights violations.

March 4, 2008: The National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee signs an agreement to establish a Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

March 19, 2008: The OHCHR report was launched.

May 23, 2008: The Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) is set up to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding post-election violence.

August 2009: TJRC is established through the enactment of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Act in March 2009 to look into all gross human rights violations inflicted on people by the state, holders of public office serving and retired and public institutions between the time period: December 12, 1963 to February 28, 2008.

March 10 2010: The International Criminal Court authorizes the opening of an investigation into crimes against humanity over the post-2007 election violence

2011: National Police Service Act, the National Police Commission Act and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority Act come into force

February 13, 2013: Four Kenyan NGOs and 15 victims of police shootings file a case in the High Court in Nairobi against six Kenyan government officials for failing to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of police shootings.

May 21, 2013: The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission hands over its 2,210-page report to President Uhuru Kenyatta.

September 4, 2014: The police shootings petition is amended and re-filed in High Court of Kenya at Kisumu against the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Independent Police Oversight Authority, and the Inspector-General of the National Police Service seeking a court judgment ordering the government to conduct genuine and effective investigations and prosecutions of police perpetrators, and to provide effective reparations.

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