Last December, an Al Jazeera network investigation examined shocking claims that the government of Kenya has been running secret police death squads, tasked with assassinating suspected terrorists and criminals. At the time the Kenyan government strongly refuted the allegations but reports and rumours in Kenya about extra judicial killings have continued to proliferate.
Ten months on, People and Power asked Mohammed Ali, one of Kenya’s top independent investigative journalists, to find out why.
In Killing Kenya, last night’s deeply worrying film, Ali discovers that mysterious killings are indeed continuing, amid an apparent culture of impunity that has left the Kenyan security forces open to suspicions that they are unaccountable and seemingly out of control.
In the capital Nairobi alone last year, the police killed 127 Kenyans. That’s a fatal shooting every three days. Over 1,500 Kenyan citizens have been killed by the police since 2009 and statistically Kenyans are currently five times more likely to be shot by a policeman than a criminal.
In the aftermath of almost every one of these episodes, the police account has been the same: the dead men were armed, dangerous and in the process of attacking the public or officers of the law. In other words, the use of lethal force by the police is routinely justified either as self-defence or as having been necessary to protect the Kenyan public from grievous harm.
But Ali hears from the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, a group of leading Kenyan pathologists dedicated to investigating human rights abuses. It has found that the evidence held in medical records, witness statements and even the police’s own accounts show that only 10 percent of these shootings actually came in a bid to preserve life. As many as three quarters of police shootings in Kenya, say critics, could instead be classified as something more sinister; as possible summary executions, where a person accused of a crime is killed on apprehension or instead of arrest without benefit of a full and fair trial.
Even the Kenyan Army, seen by most Kenyans as less corrupt and more trustworthy than the police, is now allegedly implicated in the torture and forced disappearance of terror suspects in the country’s north Eastern region.
That Kenya faces serious challenges from crime and terrorism is without question. The Kenyan public, shocked and appalled by these various threats to their peace and stability, have demanded action; the government has repeatedly expressed its willingness to stand firm in the face of those threats and forcibly respond. But can that ever justify abandoning the rule of law, setting aside due process and meeting violence with more extreme violence?
“It’s not as though the strategy is especially effective –except perhaps in encouraging more violence in return,” says Ali. “From the Muslim community in Mombasa to the marginalised youths of the sprawling Nairobi slums such as Korogocho or Kibera, we heard time and time again that government actions are creating a them and us culture; a breeding ground for endemic violence between economically or politically or religiously disenfranchised communities, who feel they are outside the law and therefore have no path left open other than to pick up a gun against a hostile state which seems set on engaging them in battle.”
Al Jazeera took the claims in the documentary to the highest levels of the Kenyan police in Nairobi seeking a response. “We asked repeatedly in person and in writing for an interview with the Inspector General of the Kenyan National Police,” says Ali. “We set out all our allegations and offered the organisation a chance to give us a statement. We said we wished ‘in the interests of fairness and accuracy’ to hear the police’s side of the story, to incorporate any official reply into our film. Our requests went unanswered. And maybe that’s the problem with a culture of impunity; those who have no reason to fear legal sanction or discipline feel no real compunction to explain their actions. But the questions for Kenya’s police forces won’t go away. They will merely become more pressing as the death toll mounts.”
Watch the full 26-minute documentary Below:
AL JAZEERA MEDIA NETWORK