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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale

History of Kenyan police violence raises concerns for Haiti mission

Kenyan riot police during clashes with protesters in the Kibera area of Nairobi, 19 July 2023. © Brian Inganga/AP

The United Nations Security Council has given the green light for Kenya to lead an international mission to combat rampant gang violence in Haiti. But watchdogs say they are concerned about possible human rights violations, given accusations of abuses by Kenyan police.

Kenya is due to send 1,000 law enforcement officers to Haiti, where they will support the national police for at least a year, to take on the armed gangs that have effectively seized control of parts of the Caribbean country.

But Amnesty International is among the rights groups flagging concerns about the mission.

In an open letter to the Security Council in August, it said it had received reports of Kenyan police being involved in hundreds of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, beatings, arbitrary arrests and cases of excessive force – sometimes lethal.

After the UN's approval on Monday, Amnesty renewed its call for "clear, mandatory, and enforceable parameters" to prevent unlawful use of force and other human rights abuses during the international mission in Haiti.

Alarming track record

"The Kenyan police have a long history of abuse and violations," Martin Mavenjina of the Kenya Human Rights Commission told RFI.

After Kenya's disputed 2007 presidential election and the crisis that followed, official inquiries found police to have been complicit in widespread ethnic violence.

That prompted efforts to reform the police force, but 15 years - and 81 billion shillings (some 520 million euros) - later, there is little sign of improvement.

"Since January 2023, Kenya has witnessed a surge in cases of police violence in the context of anti-government demonstrations" organised by the opposition, warns the Armed conflict location and event data project, Acled.

Protesters have been hit with tear gas and water cannons or were even fatally shot, according to Amnesty, which said it has documented at least 30 cases of police killings of protesters since March.

Police chiefs have dismissed the claims, accusing their critics of trying to smear them.

Holding officers accountable remains difficult: Kenya's Independent policing oversight authority, established in 2011, had obtained just 12 convictions for police abuses by mid-2021 out of nearly 20,000 complaints received since 2012.

International input

In recent years Kenya's police force has received training and support from the European Union, United States and other partners, including a focus on greater accountability and professionalism.

After the UN approved the Haiti mission, the United States' ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told reporters that the resolution contained stipulations designed to prevent abuses by foreign security forces.

"I can assure you the US will engage on these issues very, very aggressively," she said. "We’ve learned from mistakes of the past."

A UN peacekeeping force that remained in Haiti from 2004 to 2017 introduced cholera to the country, setting off an epidemic that killed more than 10,000 people.

UN peacekeepers were also accused of sexually abusing Haitian women and girls as young as 11 years old.

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