In 2017, after violence erupted over contested presidential elections, police carried out violent house-to-house operations, beating and shooting at protesters who had taken to the streets to express their dissatisfaction.
“Jose, Jose, they have killed our child,” cried the mother of six-month-old Samantha Pendo after Kenyan police officers used tear gas and batons to attack the mother, her husband, and their infant child. The brutal use of baton strikes by the police left baby Pendo with severe head injuries, from which she later died. On 8 August 2017, Kenyans went to the polls in a presidential election. Following the announcement of results by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner after garnering 54.3 per cent of the votes; his main rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga, garnered 44.74 per cent of the votes. Odinga rejected the results and claimed the election process was marred by fraud and numerous irregularities. Violent protests soon erupted in opposition strongholds, including Nairobi, the Coast and Western Kenya. Using live ammunition, batons, teargas, and other CCWs, the police carried out violent house-to-house- operations, beating and shooting protestors who objected to the outcome of the election.
On 11 August 2017, Joseph Abanja, his wife Lenser Achieng Abanja, and their baby daughter Pendo were woken up at about 12.30 am by the screams of a neighbour who was being attacked by police. Their house in Nyalenda Estate, an informal settlement outside Kisumu, was soon surrounded by police officers. The police lobbed a tear gas canister through a crack in the door, forcing the family out of their house and toward the waiting police. Achieng cradled Baby Pendo in her left arm, pleading with the police not to beat her with their batons, especially because of her infant. But two officers descended on her, beating her on her left side and striking Baby Pendo on the head. Baby Pendo was rushed by her parents to Aga Khan Hospital in Kisumu where she spent four days in the intensive care unit and then died.
A post-mortem report found that she had suffered a fractured skull. A public inquest ordered by the Magistrate Court in Kisumu found that Baby Pendo had indeed died from injuries sustained by officers who had broken into her parents’ house while pursuing residents protesting the outcome of the presidential election.
On 14 February 2019, a Magistrate’s Court found five police officers culpable for the death of Baby Samantha Pendo. In addition, the court established that under the doctrine of command responsibility, the respective commanders failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the officers’ criminal action. In her ruling, Magistrate Meryl Omollo placed particular responsibility on senior officers involved in the policing of the protests, stating that, “based on the command responsibility in the National Police Service, the commanders in charge of the operations were found liable for the death of the deceased baby Samantha Pendo.” The magistrate also recommended charges against 30 General Service Unit officers from the Kenya Police Service who were involved in the operation.
At the end of 2022, the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji called for the arrest and prosecution of involved police officers for crimes against humanity under the “superior/command responsibility” principle of international law. This could finally lead to some form of accountability as the officers (at the time of this report’s publication) had not been penalised in any way despite the court’s findings.
According to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, there were 57 fatalities, including minors, during the 2017 election-related protests in Kenya. None of those cases has been conclusively investigated.
There is an urgent need for the Kenyan Government to comprehensively investigate the multiple incidents in which police used lethal CCWs against peaceful demonstrators and bystanders.