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Kenyan Groups Accuse Police of Brutality and Illegal Arrests


Kenyan human rights groups are calling for international and local investigations into the conduct of Kenya's police force, which they accuse of brutality and illegal arrests. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, the groups plan to present evidence to international bodies, including the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Kenyan non-governmental organizations are criticizing the police response to a series of recent demonstrations protesting the government's sale of a luxury hotel. Police prevented a march through downtown Nairobi and arrested several activists who were calling for the country's finance minister to resign.

NGO leaders call the action a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

Human rights groups have also spoken out about police misconduct on several other fronts in the past year. They say a police crackdown last year on the criminal Mungiki gang involved widespread extra-judicial killing.

They also criticized police restrictions on public protests following December's disputed presidential elections. And more recently, groups have provided reports of torture in a campaign by the police and military targeting a militia in the western region of Mount Elgon.

International Center for Policy and Conflict Executive Director Ndung'u Wainaina says the police have consistently denied reports of misconduct.

"When the police were confronted with cases of police torturing people in Mt. Elgon area, they denied it, yet evidence existed, from both the human rights groups - the non-governmental organizations - as well as the statutory body, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights," he said. "What this clearly shows is the Kenyan police force has been engaging in consistent and persistent human rights violations, each and every day. And every time the police is confronted with figures, they deny."

Wainaina says a number of organizations, including the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission, and his group, are collecting evidence to give Kenyan leaders and international bodies.

"We are in the process of compiling a comprehensive petition to, one, the prime minister's office, the office of the president, and then we are also going to share the same documents with the international bodies that deal particularly on the question of arbitrary arrests, questions of torture, and also questions of disappearances," he said.

He said the groups would contact the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N. special investigator on extrajudicial killings. The groups also plan to bring legal proceedings in Kenya against police officials suspected of involvement in crimes, including Commissioner Hussein Ali.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe, meanwhile, denies reports of police misconduct. He says the police have followed the law in responding to requests for public demonstrations.

"The reasoning behind the provisions of the public order act, as to the notification given to the police, are simply things like how do you provide security, things like regulation of traffic to ensure that we do not have unnecessary traffic jams, are simply issues like any legitimate professional demonstration shall not be hijacked by the many criminals who are around to commit other crimes," said Kiraithe. "They are very simple and understandable things. The law must apply to all of us equally without exception. "

He says the Kenyan public is supportive of a tough police response to criminal groups like the Mungiki and the militia in Mount Elgon.

"I can tell you if anything, what the community is concerned about is whether we shall sustain firm action against criminal gangs," said Kiraithe. "That is the public is very very clear, it is unanimous, that they would want complete and decisive action on the criminal gangs, and especially the prosecution on all those people who have been known to commit crimes on the people."

In June, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights wrote to former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louis Arbour recommending an investigation into police and military actions in the Mount Elgon operation and the suspension of Kenyan forces from U.N. peacekeeping operations.

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