As International Women's Day is observed worldwide, Kenyan women gathered in Nairobi Tuesday to speak out against the police killings of their loved ones.
For women around the world, the March 8 is a day to celebrate and advance the progress of gender equality globally. But in Nairobi, March 8 was a day for mothers, daughters, sisters and wives to demand justice for family members killed by Kenya’s police.
Police executions have been a notorious problem for Kenya’s judicial system and government officials over the past decade, prompting international calls for an end to the killings.
The Kenyan government has promised to address the issue, establishing commissions to enact reforms within Kenya’s police force, which Transparency International ranked as the third most corrupt institution in East Africa in 2010.
Just weeks ago, Kenyan MP Martha Karua alleged that police executions have risen during the tenure of President Mwai Kibaki. Karua pointed to a report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights which reported nearly 500 cases of extrajudicial killings.
The chairperson of the Social Reform Center, Alice Wahome, told attendees at the rally that the killings have continued. Wahome, who also serves as the deputy secretary general of Karua’s NARC Kenya party, urged the attendees to unite and demand the rights given to Kenyans under the country’s new constitution.
On January 20, the issue of police executions burst back into the public eye, when the Daily Nation newspaper published photographs of police officers shooting suspects in the middle of a busy highway in broad daylight. Local and international observers swiftly condemned the killings and Minister of Internal Security George Saitoti immediately promised a full and thorough investigation.
“Such acts are totally unacceptable, and more so coming at a time when the government is implementing a new constitution that highly upholds the fundamental rights of all citizens,” said Saitoti.
In 2009, United Nations’ Special Rapporteur Philip Alston conducted a fact-finding mission on police executions in Kenya, finding them to be "a systematic, widespread and clearly planned strategy to execute individuals, carried out on a regular basis by the Kenya police."
The report was highly controversial and criticized by many of Kenya’s politicians, who challenged Alston’s findings as ill-informed.
But for the women - and men - gathered in Nairobi, the report became a rallying cry for justice as victim’s families recounted their own experiences.
Ruth Neema told the audience she has never received an explanation for her brother’s death at the hands of Kenyan police. Neema found out on Valentine’s Day when she found her mother and sister crying at home. When the women travelled to the local police station to find the body, officials could not find any record of the incident.
And though the Tuesday event in Nairobi was organized by women’s groups, many men were in attendance to demand answers from the police. Daniel Njoroge told VOA he wanted answers for his brother Joseph Wanyoike, who died just one week ago. According to Njoroge, Joseph was shot in the arm and leg by police in Nairobi, then loaded into a vehicle, where he told bystanders that the police would kill him. Njoroge later found Joseph in the city mortuary, dead from a gunshot to the head.
“We need justice from the police and also those who did that to be arrested, because they are police officers who are known to me. I know them. That is what we want,” said Njoroge.
Security Minister Saitoti and police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe have stressed in recent months that the incidents of extrajudicial killings are not representative of the force as a whole and promised serious reform. But for those gathered on Tuesday, promises of reform were not as important as the truth and justice for the loved ones lost in the violence.