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Survivors and Justice Centres unite to demand end to Police Brutality in Kenya

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Survivors and Justice Centres unite to demand end to Police Brutality in Kenya

COVID-19 curfews have led to a surge in cases of police violence in Kenya. IJM and partners have recorded 23 possible deaths as a result of police brutality during the curfew period alone. IJM Kenya and others in the Police Reforms Working Group have released statements against this abuse and started monitoring cases. Activists and survivor networks across Kenya are advocating for an end to impunity for police violence.

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OVID-19 curfews have led to a surge in cases of police violence in Kenya. Here we highlight the role of Justice Centres and survivor networks across Kenya who are uniting communities to demand change.

"Many people that I grew up with were killed by police and no one used to question," Wilfred Olal remembers. Wilfred grew up in a neighborhood where police violence, sexual violence and other injustices were rampant. Today, Wilfred is the convener of the Social Justice Centres Working Group in Kenya and the coordinator of the Dandora Community Justice Centre.

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Wilfred Olal, Coordinator of the Dandora Justice Centre

There are currently over 30 Justice Centres across Kenya, and 16 in Nairobi alone. IJM and partners in the Police Reforms Working Group have helped to set up some of the Justice Centres in some of the poorest neighbourhoods of Nairobi and other towns.

Where previously it was very difficult for victims of police abuse from rural areas to report cases, these centres have now become a one-stop-shop for convenient reporting of all human rights violations.

During the COVID-19 period, the Justice Centres have served as a key convening space for community members to come together, support one another and unite their voices to demand change. Together, by leveraging technology and community insight, human rights monitors in the Justice Centres have been able to provide crucial information about human rights violations to IJM and partners like Independent Policing Oversight Authority.

IJM and our partners received heartbreaking cases of people who were brutalised by police for not managing to get home by 7pm - amounting to at least 23 possible deaths in the curfew period alone.

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) recorded over 80 complaints and over 20 deaths in the first two months of the curfew.

Pictured above: Wilfred Olal, Dandora Justice Centre Coordinator

In the long term, Justice Centres are a sustainable mechanism for providing community support and mobilizing people in Nairobi’s impoverished informal settlements to speak with strength and power together. Before the curfew, we had started seeing a reduction in police brutality in areas where there are Justice Centres.

"A lot has changed. Before some people thought it was okay for police to kill youths. Today things have changed, and we are seeing a new wave of people who know their rights, and all these is because of the advocacy that we have done here. " - Wilfred Olal

“The network is now on the frontline not as victims but as survivors and defenders of human rights,” said Charles Maina, IJM Kenya’s Community and Advocacy Coordinator.

Yet these Human Rights Defenders are keenly aware that the work they do through the Justice Centres is not without risk.

“Threats, intimidation, and criminalization of human rights defenders is real, and it is something that is expected on this job. I personally have been arrested many times and even summoned by senior police officers,” recalls Wilfred. His bravery and commitment to the safety and wellbeing of his community drive him to show up despite the danger.

“I would like to see the Justice Centres empowered to the point where they have the capacity to take some cases, provide legal and psychosocial services to clients just like IJM does,” Charles shares. “I would like to know that if IJM exits the scene, there will be agents in the community to continue with the work of seeking justice.”

Police abuse of power is a systemic problem in Kenya that needs our collective concerted effort. There are officers who continue to misuse their powers by extorting, brutalising, maiming and even killing those they should protect. At IJM we strongly hold the view that such officers must be removed from the service and held to account if Kenya is to realise meaningful police reforms.

“We hope … to see police held to account for misconduct and for this accountability to create a deterrent that stops the problem for good,” shares Benson Shamala,, IJM Kenya Director

“As it is, the problem of police killings and violence is a recurrent issue that sees too many lives torn apart.” explains Benson Shamala (pictured above, 3rd from right) in a recent article for the Guardian.

Since 2001, IJM Kenya have successfully trained 4,849 police, judges, communities and others on police abuse and child protection.

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