Police brutality remains a significant block to finding justice in most democratic countries especially those still grappling with political unrest and societal upheavals.
During such unrests like mass actions to call for justice, police have been used by the state to thwart attempts to seek justice.
There has been a significant rise in reported incidents of police brutality during demonstrations, with an alarming 70% increase in documented cases over the past two years in Kenya.
Out of the reported cases, 70% involve unarmed civilians who were peacefully exercising their right to protest.
Unfortunately, only 15% of the reported cases have led to investigations or disciplinary actions, creating a culture of impunity.
A look at the 2013 and 2013 general elections outcomes in Kenya reveals more than meets the eye in the dirty dealings of the security forces during demonstrations.
In 2017 according to the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, (KNCHR), 94 deaths, 201 cases of sexual violence and more than 300 injuries were documented – most of which were attributed to the security forces.
Among the most memorable one is baby Samantha whose case according to the Kenyan inquest in 2019 found five police commanders liable for her death, although never served jail terms.
Journey for justice
In Migori, Naomi Anyango, Nicholas Opiyo and Peter Mayaka are testimony of the bureaucratic, tiresome and daunting journey of pursuing justice for 2017 police brutality on civilians without giving up.
For Naomi, it has been a journey of determination for justice following her narrow escape from a police live bullet that went through her upper limbs.
Naomi who is a resident of Bondo Nyironge in Suna West Sub County was shot after alighting from a passenger vehicle in Rongo Sub County.
For her, she remained adamant about the police lobbying teargas on the demonstrators as she was not part of them, she remained steadfast on her journey.
She realized that things moved from bad to worse when after noticing blood moving from her thigh to the shoe.
“I only realized that I had been shot after realizing my shoe was full of blood after a gunshot which I assumed before,” she explained.
As she narrated, she had to hide in the nearby sugarcane plantation in order to avoid more injuries or even worse, death as most of the victims.
After the treatment, Naomi ventured into pursuing justice which has been a journey full of hick-ups including a slow legal process and lack of capital.
Her breakthrough came after meeting Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), an organization that works to organize communities towards police anti-torture movements and reforms.
As Naomi narrated, IMLU took over her case and with the help of its litigation team, her case became one of the landmark rulings against police brutality on April 4, 2023.
Nicholas Opiyo on the other hand is a victim of the same following his unfortunate encounter with the police quelling demonstrations in Migori during the 2017 election protests.
Opiyo, just like Naomi, was shot in the limbs as he was from a shift at Oruba Nursing Home, a medical institution in Migori town.
According to him, the torture is still engraved in his mind, five years after the unfortunate encounter which has left him to lose his stable physique.
“I am a testimony of the police brutality and that has been the saddest but most memorable day in my life,” he said.
For Opiyo, seeking justice has never been a walk in the park until meeting the IMLU organization which he says has been of great help.
Despite escaping death narrowly and beginning a journey to get justice, he said that he has incurred huge money, but as he puts it, giving up is not an option for him.
“I have used a lot of money while undergoing treatment as well as seeking justice and my only hope is to find justice from any corner,” he said.
For Peter Mayaka whose son was killed by police while demonstrating, the journey is a replica of Naomi and Opiyo’s cases.
With the help of IMLU, Peter is steadfast and just like Naomi, he believes that he will one day get to taste justice.
“I am on a journey to seek justice for my slain son and I believe that through IMLU, there is light at the end of this long tunnel,” he said.
The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU)
According to Isabella Obara, who works at IMLU, the organization works with other human rights defenders to pursue justice on behalf of the victims who willingly surrender their cases to them.
The organization is a non-profit making entity whose aim is to be the vessel through which the downtrodden can find a voice to speak to them.
The organization works to defend the victims of state torture which mostly happen through the security forces either physically or psychologically.
“We are an organization that works to defend the citizens that we believe have been systematically denied their rights by the state which is supposed to protect and support the rights,” said Isabella.
For Naomi’s case, Isabella underscored: “We are happy that the petitioner came out strongly which indeed was confirmed by judiciary indicating that human rights were violated.”
The organization which has been in existence for three decades has filed 7 petitions out of which two victims are dead, but their determination is to pursue justice to the very end.
The organization works by getting case reports from the human rights defenders on the ground after which they assess the cases through preliminary and comprehensive documentation.
Once the case passes assessment thresholds, the litigation team on-boards the case where the case officer works on the file.
From here as Isabella said, the IMLU team looks at the possible ways of seeking justice which include a court process as in the case of Naomi.
However, she noted the numerous threats they undergo when pursuing justice for a victim which put their lives in danger.
Additionally, Isabella condemned the lengthy process of justice in Kenya which creates a backlog of cases in the courtrooms.
This, she attributes to Naomi’s case which was filed in September 2021 and was ruled in April 2023 due to the bureaucracy in the judicial system.