January 18, 2008

Amnesty International Condemns Lethal Force by Police in Kenya; Death Toll in Protests Rises to 12

(New York)--Amnesty International today condemned the reckless and excessive use of lethal force by Kenyan police, including firing live ammunition into crowds, as reports emerged that police killed at least 12 people, including a 13-year-old boy, during protests called by the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

"We recognize that the Kenyan police are trying to contain what in some cases have been violent protests in Kenya. However, by firing live ammunition into crowds the police have far exceeded what is acceptable use of force. The firing of live ammunition into crowds can not be justified," said Erwin van der Borght, director of Amnesty International's Africa Program.

In one incident, captured on video by a local television station, an unarmed protestor in Kisumu was shot at close range by a Kenyan police officer, who then kicked the protestor as he lay wounded on the ground. The man reportedly died later from the bullet wound.

In a number of other incidents, protestors and bystanders in Kibera, in Nairobi, were reported to have been shot by police preventing residents from travelling to the city center for the mass protest rally called by the opposition. Kibera, inhabited by many opposition party supporters, has been the site of considerable post-election violence.

"The government must immediately send clear instructions to the police to stop this excessive use of force, conduct an independent and impartial inquiry into the police killings, and prosecute any police officers who have used excessive force against protesters," said van der Borght.

Amnesty International is also concerned over reports that police have harassed journalists covering the protests, and that human rights defenders protesting the use of excessive force by Kenyan security forces have been arrested.

"The Kenyan government must respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly throughout Kenya," said van der Borght. "It is only through the respect for human rights that the country will be able to resolve the political crisis it is now facing."

"U.S. government officials--along with other key allies of Kenya--must use their considerable influence with Kenyan government and party leaders and support regional initiatives to prevent further devastating violations of human rights across the country," added Lynn Fredriksson, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director for Africa.

Amnesty International has called on both Kenyan government and opposition party leaders to refrain from behavior that could be perceived as condoning violence by their supporters against rivals.

Background information

Since December 30, 2007, more than 600 people are reported to have been killed and thousands injured during violence that erupted following the announcement of disputed election results. More than 250,000 have been internally displaced.

Under the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, police may use force only when strictly necessary, and only to the extent required for the performance of their duty. Firearms should not be used except to defend people against the imminent threat of death or serious injury or to prevent a grave threat to life, and only when less extreme means are insufficient. Intentional lethal force should not be used except when strictly unavoidable.

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