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Kenyan men with protective masks are running on the street Police methods to reduce the spread of covid-19 have been more fatal in Kenya than in the disease itself. Photo: TT

Awareness saves lives in Kenya

A crisis situation brings many matters to a head. In Kenya, beatings, and even deaths, are reported when the police act to reduce the spread of covid-19. But where Diakonia is training policemen in human rights, we are now seeing a reduction in police brutality.

Measures taken by the Kenyan government to limit the spread of COVID-19 have included banning travel, both domestic and international, and public and religious gatherings. There is also a curfew in place throughout the country from 7 in the evening to 5 in the morning. Disregarding these measures can lead to fines or even prison.

Monitoring the actions of the police

Diakonia’s partner organization Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) works on human rights, focusing particularly on the legal system. Since the measures to reduce infection were introduced, IMLU has been monitoring and surveying the actions of the police, and there have been reports from across the country of arbitrary use of force, sometimes even resulting in deaths. Police have been reported using whips, batons, tear gas and live bullets. A 13-year-old boy has been shot dead.
On one occasion, police used force to clear some streets, even though the curfew was not due to take effect for another two hours. The curfew has been put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and yet people have been made to lie close together on the ground, sometimes even on top of one another, making the spread of the virus more likely.

Working alongside the public

But IMLU’s survey also shows that long-term work produces results. At the thirteen police stations that have had three years of funding from Diakonia for work to improve police knowledge of human rights, there have been no reports of brutality; in fact, those police stations have been praised by people in the area for having upheld the curfew humanely and lawfully.

“The training has given us a greater understanding of how we can work alongside the public,” says Moses Juma, head of Keringet police station in western Kenya. “We have worked on building a good relationship with citizens and one of the most important outcomes is less crime. People are now coming in voluntarily to give us information about crimes. The training has also broadened our understanding of human rights and that improves the way we handle our cases. Particularly now, when we are all in a vulnerable situation”.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Diakonia has also donated disinfectant, gloves and masks to help restrict the spread of COVID-19.