16 October 2017

Kenya: Lift Nasa Protest Ban and Stop Police Brutality - UN Experts

Photo: Elisha Otieno/Daily Nation
Anti-IEBC protests in Migori County on October 16, 2017.

United Nations experts have asked the government to lift the ban on protesters in key counties and end police brutality during demonstrations.

In a statement sent to newsrooms on Monday, they also asked leaders to stop frequent attacks on the Judiciary and civil society as the country prepares for the October 26 repeat presidential election.

TENSION

They added that security forces should prioritise dialogue and non-violent responses to violence.

"It is precisely when political tensions are high that governments should do their utmost to let people express their grievances and to protect their rights. Participants in peaceful protests are exercising and defending their legitimate right to voice their demands and express dissent," the experts said.

On Thursday last week, the government barred anti-IEBC demos in central business districts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.

Citing the Public Order Act, acting Interior CS Fred Matiang'i on Thursday said the ban aimed at protecting Kenyans and their property.

Dr Matiang'i cited Section 56 of the Public Order Act in making the decision even as he insisted that his order does not curtail the right of National Super Alliance (Nasa) supporters to demonstrate and picket.

NO VIOLENCE

"We cannot go on this way. It is unfortunate to see people's cars being smashed, property being destroyed in the guise of peaceful demonstrations. We must respect the law," he said.

Mr Matiang'i's remarks were backed by Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet and Deputy President William Ruto.

Mr Boinnet said Nasa supporters will be met with severe force if they try to attack police stations while demonstrating.

On Sunday, at the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa in Bahati, Nairobi, Mr Ruto said the government supports Mr Matiang'i's firmness against violent protesters.

"Matiang'i should stand firm because we will not accept instability disguised as violent demonstrations. We urge our competitors to respect the rule of law and they should know that the government will not sit back and watch," Mr Ruto said.

BRUTALITY

But the experts said unnecessary, excessive or otherwise arbitrary use of force by law enforcement officials is incompatible with the absolute prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

"Even before this ban was imposed, we were witnessing a pattern of police brutality and excessive use of force against protesters, as well as consistent harassment of judges and threats to civil society," the experts added.

They said the ban should be lifted without delay.

"Kenya is facing a choice. We urge it to choose to uphold its Constitution and pursue strengthening of its democracy, to avoid deepening political divisions and exacerbating tensions," the experts said.

They highlighted a recent incident on September 28, when 27 students and staff at the University of Nairobi were reportedly injured when police used tear gas, beat them with wooden clubs, robbed them and threatened them with sexual violence.

LAW

Another incident the experts mentioned was on October 2, where police reportedly used tear gas in a nursery in Nyalenda, injuring at least three children, while protests in some other parts of the country were also met with a heavy-handed response by security forces.

"We call for a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into all allegations of police brutality. Impunity fosters a culture of violence and mistrust, the opposite of what Kenya needs as it prepares for a repeat of the presidential elections," the experts said.

They commended Kenyans and parties for addressing grievances through judicial processes.

The experts also expressed concern over reports that the government had suspended, or was considering suspending, the activities of the International Development Law Organisation, an intergovernmental body which has been providing vital non-partisan support to the Judiciary and other parts of the government to promote the rule of law.

"Preserving the independence of the Judiciary and constitutionally mandated institutions is of paramount importance as Kenya works towards delivering free, peaceful and fair presidential elections," the experts stressed.

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