July 2023 | Death toll rises in Kenya’s ongoing cost-of-living protests
The death toll in Kenya’s ongoing cost-of-living protests rose sharply in July, as planned tax increases prompted renewed demonstrations and violent clashes between protesters and the police. No official tally of the fatalities was released by the government but, as of 21 July, civil society organisations had documented 27 fatal police shootings between 7 and 19 July. The police’s use of live ammunition and teargas to disperse stone-throwing protesters has given rise to allegations that use of force was excessive. Rights groups also alleged that the police beat protesters and arbitrarily arrested and detained them. Such allegations are not new in Kenya. 130 police killings were reported in 2022. However, there is growing civil society concern about the tactics employed by the police, including the use of armed plain clothes officers at protests. The cost-of-living protests began in March 2023.
February 2023 | Supreme Court rules that refusal to register LGBTQIA+ organisation was unconstitutional
On 24 February, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled that the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) must be allowed to register as an NGO. Upholding decisions by the High Court and the Court of Appeal, it found that the refusal of Kenya’s NGOs Coordination Board to register the NGLHRC was unconstitutional on the grounds that it limited the right to freedom of association based on sexual orientation. In its judgement, the Court clarified that the country’s penal code does not permit such a limitation because, while it criminalizes same-sex sexual acts, it does not criminalize homosexuality. The decision was welcomed by the NGLHRC, whose executive director said, ‘at a time where the Kenyan LGBTQIA+ community is decrying the increased targeting and violence, this decision affirms the spirit and intention of the Constitution to protect all Kenyans and guarantee their rights.’ However, it has been met by fierce criticism from politicians and religious leaders, who characterised it as a threat to Kenya’s moral values.
December 2022 | Resignations from the IEBC as an investigation begins
The split within the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) during the 2022 election continues to have implications for the future of the institution. On 2 December, following a recommendation from the National Assembly, President Ruto suspended the four commissioners (Juliana Whonge Cherera, Francis Mathenge Wanderi, Irene Cherop Masit and Justus Abonyo Nyang’aya) who had disputed the official results of the election, and appointed a tribunal to investigate allegations of misconduct. After this, three of the suspended commissioners resigned, thus avoiding participation in the investigation. Masit did not resign and appeared before the tribunal in late December. The tribunal is expected to conclude on 27 January. The remaining three members of the IEBC will conclude their non-renewable six-year term in January 2023, meaning a complete replacement of the IEBC commissioners may take place.
October 2022 | Ground-breaking prosecution of Kenyan police for 2017 election violence
In a decision described by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as “ground-breaking”, Kenyan prosecutors charged twelve police officers with crimes against humanity for their role in the violent suppression of post-election protests in 2017. According to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the violence that followed resulted in 94 deaths, 201 cases of sexual violence and more than 300 injuries, most of which it attributed to the security forces. The charges include rape, murder and torture and are the first under Kenya’s International Crimes Act. It is also the first instance in which electoral-related sexual violence has been criminally prosecuted in Kenya. Newly inaugurated president, William Ruto, has vowed to reform the security sector in order to end the enduring problem of security force violence in the country and in October disbanded the Special Services Unit, a 20-year-old police unit accused of extrajudicial killings and torture.