Use of excessive force in Covid-19 fight regrettable

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020 00:00 |
Police brutality. Photo/Courtesy

Mercy Chepkemoi 

Since Kenyan registered the fist Covid-19 case in March, the infections have grown steadily, to almost 2,000 cases.

Measures put in place to contain the virus  include the dusk-to-dawn national curfew.

Coronavirus, like any other infectious disease, poses a high risk to populations that live in close proximity with each other.

The authority of the State to withdraw personal liberty and suspend the right to assemble as provided for in Articles 37 and 39 of the Constitution is justified under these circumstances, but where the same State proactively protects its citizens from unauthorised  effects of these impacts. 

On the first day of the curfew, Kenyans were treated to shocking video clips of people being beaten up by police officers and others frog-marched at Likoni channel.

Journalists were not spared from the wrath of the armed officers who, in their defence, said they were enforcing the curfew directive.

Another death blamed on police brutality is that of a 13-year-old boy, Yassin Moyo, from Kiamaiko, Nairobi who succumbed to injuries from a stray bullet.

According to the late boy’s mother, the bullet struck the boy as he stood in the balcony of their home. 

These incidents raise the questions regarding police reforms and their preparedness to enforce directives.

The Public Order Act sets out a penalty for contravention of a curfew, and it’s not corporal punishment.

A person who contravenes curfew orders shall be liable to a fine not exceeding Sh1,000 or three months imprisonment, according to the Act.

There is a notion among the public that the police are wired to use excessive force  in execution of their duties.

A range of measures and new structures and laws have been introduced over the past 20 years with the ultimate goal of creating a democratic and accountable police service, but unfortunately the said reforms aimed at among other things, bridging the silent conspicuous fear existing between the police officers and the civilians have not materialised.

More often than not, police have been accused of not abiding by the Sixth Schedule of the Police Standing Orders, which provides that a police officer shall always attempt to use non-violent means of force—force that is proportionate to the objective to be achieved and where the use of force results in injuries, the officer involved shall provide medical assistance. 

The Constitution also makes it illegal and unconstitutional to subject any person to any form of violence from either public or private sources, corporal punishment and treatment that is cruel or degrading, with Article 244 providing that the National Police Service shall comply with constitutional standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms. What was witnessed at Likoni and Kiamaiko was a gross violation of the above provisions.

It is unfortunate that police have handled the enforcement of the curfew like a crime with total disregard of the rule of law, and absolutely no guidelines on how the directive should be enforced. They have abused the power bestowed on them.

This is the time we should uphold the spirit of the Constitution. The National Police Service should observe and respect the rule of law as the pandemic has not suspended fundamental rights and freedom of Kenyans. 

Kenyans are not the enemy, the virus is.  —The writer is a Programmes Assistant at Transparency International Kenya

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