Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president, deputy president, and parliamentarians, as well as county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won re-election as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities, and the court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president that the opposition boycotted. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared President Kenyatta winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results.
The National Police Service maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence internally as well as externally and reports directly to the president. The Kenya Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including post disaster response. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government and by the terrorist group al-Shabaab; forced disappearances by the government or on behalf of the government and by al-Shabaab; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by the government; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women and girls; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority, established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The government took limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although the Independent Policing Oversight Authority continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common.
Al-Shabaab staged deadly attacks on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. In January militants carried out five attacks, killing more than a dozen persons, including three teachers and four children. The government continued to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterror operations.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, particularly of known or suspected criminals, including terrorists. Between July 2019 and June 30, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) received 161 complaints regarding deaths resulting from police actions or inactions, compared with 119 in the prior year. The Missing Voices website, founded by a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to track police killings and disappearances, as of November documented 127 cases of killings and suspected enforced disappearances during the year.
Some groups alleged authorities significantly underestimated the number of extrajudicial killings by security forces, including due to underreporting of such killings in informal settlements, particularly in dense urban areas. Media reports and NGOs attributed many human rights abuses to counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and the northeast counties of Mandera, Garissa, and Wajir bordering Somalia, as well as along the coast. Human rights groups reported these abuses targeted Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis. In a report released in January, NGO HAKI Africa and its partners alleged suspected security force members killed 43 persons, including many ethnic Somalis, in the coastal region in 2019. HAKI reported extremists and criminal groups killed 11 individuals and civilian mobs killed five persons during the same period in the six coastal counties.
On March 27, the government began enforcing a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Media and human rights groups reported police used excessive and arbitrary force to enforce these measures, which led to deaths and injuries. As of September 22, IPOA stated it received 93 complaints of police misconduct while enforcing the curfew, involving 20 deaths and 73 injuries from shootings, assaults, and inhuman treatment. In October, NGO Independent Medico-Legal Unit reported it documented 26 killings by police during the pandemic. As of June the Social Justice Centres Working Group recorded 18 deaths in informal settlements from shootings, beatings, and other violence related to enforcement of COVID-19 measures. For example, on March 31, police reportedly shot 13-year-old Yassin Moyo while he was standing on the balcony of his family’s home in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi. Police officer Duncan Ndiema Ndie was charged with murder, and the case remained pending at the end of the year. On April 1, President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly apologized for police violence related to the curfew; nonetheless, reports of abuses continued.
Impunity remained a serious problem. Authorities investigated and prosecuted a number of police officers for committing killings, but there were no convictions during the year. Since its inception in 2012, IPOA investigations had led to six convictions of police officers for killings. As of November, IPOA reported it had 62 pending court cases involving police killings, with 12 cases involving police killings awaiting registration in court and 35 cases awaiting legal review by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Human rights groups also noted the government failed to provide compensation and redress to families of victims. In September several human rights groups filed a class suit against the government on behalf of victims of police brutality, including Yassin Moyo, to seek compensation for deaths and injuries resulting from police abuses during the enforcement of COVID-19 measures. The petition also called on the government to implement laws intended to address human rights violations and protect victims.
Al-Shabaab terrorists continued to conduct deadly attacks in areas close to the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. In the first two weeks of January, militants carried out five attacks killing more than a dozen persons, including three teachers and four children. In April suspected al-Shabaab militants killed six police reservists during an exchange of gunfire. In October a Nairobi court convicted two men for supporting the 2013 al-Shabaab attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, which killed 67 persons. The court sentenced the two men to 33 years and 18 years in prison, respectively, with reductions for pretrial detention bringing the terms to 26 years and 11 years, respectively.
Police failed to prevent vigilante violence in numerous instances but in other cases played a protective role (see section 6).
Observers and NGOs alleged members of the security forces and extremist groups were culpable of forced disappearances. Human rights groups noted many unlawful killings first materialized as enforced disappearances. The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported that in early April, two men and two women disappeared from the Nairobi informal settlement of Kiamaiko. Their bodies were later found in a mortuary bearing signs of torture. Later in April an activist from Kiamaiko Social Justice Centre and two companions disappeared. Their car was later found abandoned, but authorities found no trace of the men. In January, HAKI Africa released a report alleging security forces conducted 11 enforced disappearances in the coastal region in 2019.
In August, NGOs commemorated the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances and called on the government to enact a comprehensive law on enforced disappearances and investigate disappearances allegedly committed by security force members.
Media also reported on families on the coast and in northeastern counties searching for relatives who disappeared following arrest and of authorities holding individuals incommunicado for interrogation for several weeks or longer (see section 1.d.).
Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups reportedly continued to abduct civilians in areas bordering Somalia. In September suspected extremists abducted three bus passengers in Mandera County. In May al-Shabaab militants freed an Italian aid worker kidnapped in 2018.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law includes provisions to apply articles of the 2010 constitution, including: Article 25 on freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; Article 28 on respect and protection of human dignity; and Article 29 on freedom and security of the person. The law brings all state agencies and officials under one rather than multiple legislative mandates. Additionally, the law provides protections to vulnerable witnesses and officials who refuse to obey illegal orders that would lead to torture. The law also provides a basis to prosecute torture; however, the government had not instituted the regulations required to implement fully the provisions.
NGOs continued to receive reports of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment by government forces. As of October 1, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit documented 43 cases of torture and other inhuman treatment allegedly perpetrated by police during the year.
Police and prison officials reportedly used torture and violence during interrogations as well as to punish pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. According to human rights NGOs, physical battery, bondage in painful positions, and electric shock were the most common methods used by police. A range of human rights organizations and media reported police committed indiscriminate violence with impunity.
Police used excessive force in some cases when making arrests. For example, there were numerous press and NGO reports of police brutality against protesters and unarmed citizens (see sections 2 and 5), particularly related to the enforcement of COVID-19 public-health measures. Human Rights Watch reported that on March 27, police in Mombasa assaulted and used tear gas against crowds, including persons waiting for a passenger ferry, more than two hours before the start of curfew. Video clips on television and social media showed police kicking and beating individuals, including using batons, and forcing many to lie down on the ground in close quarters. Authorities introduced enhanced crowd control measures and extended ferry service hours following the incidents. On March 30, the government also issued a directive instructing employers to release employees by certain times to allow them to return home prior to curfew. The cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Interior stated authorities identified 14 police officers for disciplinary actions for misconduct during the pandemic. Amnesty International and other groups criticized the government for not releasing details of these actions.
The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported police violence was especially prevalent in informal settlements. From April 15 to May 6, monitors recorded 2,589 incidents of police violence across 182 communities. The most prevalent form of violence was beatings to disperse traders and other persons in markets after curfew. Monitors also documented incidents involving use of live ammunition, tear gas, sexual violence, and property damage.
In July, four police officers assaulted Nairobi Member of County Assembly Patricia Mutheu at Nairobi’s City Hall. Video of the incident received significant coverage in traditional and social media. IPOA reported it dispatched its rapid response team to the scene, and the investigation was pending at year’s end.
IPOA investigations led to two new convictions of police officers during the year, for a total of eight convictions since IPOA’s inception in 2012. In January the Milimani Law Courts sentenced Chief Inspector Zuhura Khan to a fine or three months in prison for neglecting to ensure a female detainee, a sexual assault victim, received appropriate medical care. In March the High Court convicted police officer Corporal Edward Wanyonyi Makokha to 20 years in prison for the attempted murder of a student in Garissa County in 2014.
Victims of police abuse may file complaints at regional police stations, police headquarters through the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), IAU hotline, and through the IPOA website and hotline. IPOA investigated allegations of excessive force that led to serious injuries, but few led to prosecutions. Police officials at times resisted investigations and detained some human rights activists who publicly registered complaints against government abuses. Authorities sometimes attributed the failure to investigate a case of police corruption or violence, including unlawful killings, to the failure of victims to file official complaints. Human rights activists reported that at times police officers in charge of taking complaints at the local level were the same ones who committed abuses. Sometimes police turned away victims who sought to file complaints at police stations where alleged police misconduct originated, directing them instead to other area stations. This created a deterrent effect on reporting complaints against police. Human rights NGOs reported police used disciplinary transfers of officers to hide their identities and frustrate investigations into their alleged crimes. Many media and civil society investigations into police abuse ended after authorities transferred officers, and police failed to provide any information about their identities or whereabouts.
In July the National Police Service, in cooperation with donors, launched the first online training course for police officers. The mandatory course, which aimed to address public order and enforcement challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, included modules on the use of force and human rights-based approaches to crowd control. In August the National Police Service began to digitize records held at police stations on incidents and complaints. Government officials stated one of the aims of the program was to reduce opportunities for police to alter or delete records and increase accountability.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, defilement (statutory rape), domestic violence, and sex tourism, but enforcement remained limited. The law’s definition of domestic violence includes sexual violence within marriage, early and forced marriage, FGM/C, forced wife “inheritance,” damage to property, defilement, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, harassment, incest, intimidation, physical abuse, stalking, verbal abuse, or any other conduct against a person that harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person. The law does not explicitly criminalize spousal rape. Insulting the modesty of another person by intruding upon that person’s privacy or stripping them of clothing are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years.
The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for rape when the victim is older than 18, although sentences were at the discretion of the judge and usually no longer than the minimum of 10 years (see also section 6, Children). Citizens frequently used traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms, including maslaha in Muslim communities, to address sexual offenses in rural areas, with village elders assessing financial compensation for the victims or their families. They also used such mechanisms occasionally in urban areas.
The judiciary recorded 10,510 cases of sexual and gender-based violence filed in court between July 2018 and June 2019. The NGO Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya reported arrests and prosecutions of sexual violence cases remained low, even in cases in which victims identified perpetrators, due to limited police resources to conduct investigations, insufficient evidence collection and handling mechanisms, and lengthy court proceedings, which made it difficult and expensive for victims to pursue cases.
Although police no longer required physicians to examine victims, physicians still had to complete official forms reporting rape. Rural areas generally had no police physician, and in Nairobi there were only three. NGOs reported police stations often but inconsistently accepted the examination report of clinical physicians who initially treated rape victims. In 2019 police launched the National Police Service Standard Operating Procedures on addressing gender-based violence. These procedures aim to standardize the varying quality of care that victims receive and provide a guide to police officers who do not have the relevant training.
Authorities cited domestic violence as the leading cause of preventable, nonaccidental death for women. Except in cases of death, police officers generally refrained from investigating domestic violence, which they considered a private family matter.
NGOs expressed concerns regarding rising incidents of sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April the chief justice cited a spike in cases involving sexual offenses, noting some perpetrators were family members or close friends of the victims. A national helpline supported by the Department of Gender Affairs reported cases rose from 86 in February to more than 1,100 in June. Cases decreased in July, but the total number of calls was four times higher than during the same period in the previous year. Survivors of sexual violence were unable to report crimes or seek medical treatment during curfew hours.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law makes it illegal to practice FGM/C, procure the services of someone who practices FGM/C, or send a person out of the country to undergo the procedure. The law also makes it illegal to make derogatory remarks about a woman who has not undergone FGM/C. Government officials often participated in public-awareness programs to prevent the practice. Nevertheless, individuals practiced FGM/C widely, particularly in some rural areas. According to a study by UNICEF published in March, despite the legal prohibition of FGM/C and progress made by the government in eliminating the practice, myths supporting the practice remained deep-rooted in some local cultures. The study concluded approximately 21 percent of adult women ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure some time in their lives, but the practice was heavily concentrated in a few communities, including the Maasai (78 percent), Samburu (86 percent), and Somali (94 percent).
As part of the government’s initiative to end FGM/C by 2022, the Ministry of Public Service, Youth, and Gender Affairs continued work with county officials and nonstate actors to improve enforcement of the FGM/C law. This included education and advocacy efforts as well as prosecutions of those violating the law. NGOs and government officials reported a significant increase of FGM/C cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting school closures left girls more vulnerable. Many FGM/C rescue centers were closed partially or even totally due to the pandemic. Media reported arrests of perpetrators and parents who agreed to FGM/C, but parents in regions with a high prevalence of FGM/C frequently bribed police to allow the practice to continue. There were also reports FGM/C increasingly occurred in secret to avoid prosecution. County officials in areas with a high prevalence of FGM/C noted many cases targeted infants, with one recent government study finding an estimated 61 percent of girls younger than five in one county had undergone the procedure.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Certain communities practiced wife inheritance, in which a man inherits the widow of his brother or other close relative, regardless of her wishes. The practice was more likely in cases of economically disadvantaged women with limited access to education living outside of major cities.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Sexual harassment was often not reported, and victims rarely filed charges.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution recognizes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Exercising this right, however, remained challenging due to the prohibitive costs of contraception for some persons, the limited information and services that were available, and cultural and religious norms in some areas that discouraged the use of modern contraceptives and gave men decision-making authority over women. Subsidized contraception options, including condoms, birth control pills, and long-acting or permanent methods, were widely available to both men and women, although access was more difficult in rural areas.
The country’s 2010 constitution states, “abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.” The penal code criminalizes the provision of abortions (14 years’ imprisonment), attempts to obtain or self-administer an abortion (seven years’ imprisonment), and supplying drugs or instruments used in an abortion (three years’ imprisonment).
According to the UN Population Division, 77 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had their needs for family planning satisfied with modern methods. A 2019 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that more than half of sexually active adolescent women between the ages of 15 and 19 who did not want to become pregnant had an unmet need for modern contraception and that almost two-thirds of pregnancies among this age group were unintended. The adolescent birth rate was 96 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19, according to UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Access to sexual and reproductive health information by adolescents remained a problem due to lack of comprehensive sexuality education in schools, low coverage of youth-friendly services, and a lack of adequate stocks of contraceptives in public hospitals.
According to the UNFPA, 56 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own decisions regarding health care, contraception, and sex with their husbands or partners. NGOs reported that it was more difficult for marginalized groups–including LGBTI persons, women with disabilities, displaced persons, and persons with HIV–to access reproductive health information and services. Families of girls with disabilities sometimes colluded with medical professionals to sterilize them as a means of protecting them from sexual violence, according to a disability rights activist. In 2018 the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the government for prohibiting the NGO Marie Stopes Kenya from providing reproductive health information to women and girls following allegations the NGO was promoting abortion. The case remained pending at year’s end.
Skilled obstetric, prenatal, and postpartum care was available in major hospitals, but many women could not access or afford these services. Skilled health-care personnel attended an estimated 62 percent of births, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. In December a court ruled in favor of four survivors of sexual violence and found the government responsible for failing to investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual and gender-based violence during the 2007-2008 postelection violence. The ruling marked the first time that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence received compensation.
Maternity services were free of charge in all public health institutions in the country. The government’s Linda Mama program, a free health insurance plan that covers the pregnancy period and up to three months postdelivery, targeted women in rural and low-income areas and continued to operate during the year. NGOs reported that government measures to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a nationwide curfew and movement restrictions, led to an increase in maternal morbidity, a decrease in births attended by skilled health-care personnel, and a decrease in women receiving prenatal and postpartum care during the year.
Maternal deaths accounted for 51 percent of all deaths of women between the ages of 15 and 49, and the maternal mortality rate was 342 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. Unsafe abortion, pregnancy, and birth complications limited access to health services, and harmful cultural practices were cited as among the main causes of maternal death and morbidity. The UNFPA reported that maternal mortality in Mandera County was 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births–the highest in the country–partially due to harmful cultural rites like FGM/C and limited access to health services. In 2019 the High Court ruled that the director of medical services and the Ministry of Health had violated the rights of the country’s women by arbitrarily withdrawing standards and guidelines on reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions. The court directed the government to reinstate the guidelines and reaffirmed the right of survivors of sexual violence to obtain abortions. The Ministry of Health had not reinstated the guidelines as of year’s end.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution provides equal rights for men and women and specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language, or birth. The justice system widely applied customary laws that discriminated against women, limiting their political and economic rights.
The constitution prohibits gender discrimination in relation to land and property ownership and gives women equal rights to inheritance and access to land. The constitution also provides for the enactment of legislation for the protection of wives’ rights to matrimonial property during and upon the termination of a marriage, and it affirms parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during the marriage, and at its dissolution. According to a June report by Human Rights Watch, women continued to face institutional and legal barriers that hindered their access to justice and a fair share of matrimonial property upon the dissolution of marriage. Additionally, the components of the law that stipulate how to apply for succession were little known, and thus many inheritances continued to pass from fathers to sons only.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Mob violence and vigilante action were common in areas where the populace lacked confidence in the criminal justice system. In June demonstrators stormed Lessos Police Station in Nandi County after a police officer fatally shot a man who intervened when the officer demanded a bribe from a person not wearing a facemask. Protesters set fire to the police commander’s house, and police killed another two persons during the violence. IPOA reported it was finalizing its investigation and stated the officers involved were under internal disciplinary actions. The social acceptability of mob violence also provided cover for acts of personal vengeance. Police frequently failed to act to stop mob violence.
In October, two persons died and several were injured in Muranga County following street battles between youth factions allied to different political actors. Media outlets reported politicians instigated the violence by mobilizing and paying youth from outside areas. The governmental National Cohesion and Integration Commission condemned the violence, warning political tensions could lead to further violent conflicts ahead of the 2022 national elections.
Landowners formed groups in some parts of the country to protect their interests from rival groups or thieves. Reports indicated politicians often funded these groups or provided them with weapons, particularly around election periods.