Attempts by the Kenyan government to water-down key reforms to regulate the country’s police force will allow human rights violations to continue and officers to act with impunity, Amnesty International warned today.
Amendments to a police reform package are likely to be debated in Parliament this week. It was originally introduced to ensure that serious human rights violations committed by the Kenyan police force during the 2007/2008 post-election violence could never be repeated.
However amendments proposed by the Inspector General of Police, and endorsed by the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and National Co-ordination, would severely weaken the reforms and eliminate many of the safeguards created to discipline and regulate the police force.
“These reforms are vital for Kenya and it would be disastrous if they get diluted at the eleventh hour,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa.
“The police have been acting as if they are above the law for years. The government must honour the commitments it made in the wake of the post-election violence and carry through these essential reforms.”
In the aftermath of the 2007 election approximately 1,300 people lost their lives and 600,000 were displaced.
The police responded to increasing civil unrest and violence with excessive force that resulted in the deaths and injury of hundreds of protesters. Police were also accused of raping and assaulting women and girls, particularly in opposition areas.
Although the March 2013 elections passed relatively peacefully in most of the country, unrest in Kisumu on 30 March 2013 led to a number of deaths and injuries at the hands of the police.
Laws passed in 2011 provided for comprehensive police reform and a structural overhaul designed to address shortcomings that permit and perpetuate impunity for police abuses.
The proposed revisions to some of these laws, which are likely to be rushed through Parliament this week, would represent a serious setback to the reforms.
“This really is a case of one step forward, two steps back. What promised to be a badly needed shake up is unlikely to deliver on the key goal of a professional and accountable police service that is free of government interference,” said Sarah Jackson.
Key powers originally granted to the independent and largely civilian National Police Service Commission would either be transferred to the Inspector General of Police or would require consultation with the Inspector General and the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and National Co-ordination. These powers, which include recruitment, vetting and discipline of police officers, would therefore be at greater risk of political interference.
The independence of the role of Inspector General itself is threatened as the amendments propose that he or she can be appointed by the President and Parliament, without an open recruitment.
Amnesty International is also alarmed over amendments to the rules on use of firearms. Currently, the circumstances in which police are permitted to use firearms is limited to saving or protecting life, or in defence against an imminent threat to life or of serious injury, but new amendments would allow its use to protect property, to stop someone charged with a serious crime escaping, or to stop someone who is helping them to escape.
These additional grounds are contrary to international standards on use of force and may facilitate unlawful killings.