An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Kenya

Executive Summary

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 both internally and 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. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: 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; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations and activists; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority, established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. 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. The government continued to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterrorism operations.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, particularly of known or suspected criminals, including terrorists. Between July 2020 and June 30, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) received 188 complaints regarding deaths resulting from police actions or inactions, compared with 161 in the prior year (see section 5). The Missing Voices website, founded by a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to track police killings and disappearances, documented 168 cases of killings and 33 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. During the year the NGO HAKI Africa and its partners alleged suspected security force members killed 18 persons, including many ethnic Somalis, in the coastal region. HAKI reported extremists and criminal groups killed six individuals in the six coastal counties. In the Nairobi metropolitan area, HAKI alleged police killed 19 persons.

The Police Reforms Working Group, a collection of NGOs, called on the government to investigate the April 29 killing of a young man known as Collins, who lived in Nairobi’s Marathe informal settlement. NGOs claimed a police officer killed Collins because he was a witness to a separate extrajudicial killing.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights investigated a May incident in which prison guards beat to death a prisoner. Police investigated the killing, and prison officials involved were charged with murder. Other prisoners who witnessed the killing claimed they were intimidated not to testify. The commission also investigated these allegations and successfully advocated for the witnesses’ transfer to another prison. As of November the original murder case was pending in court.

Media reported police killed 38-year-old John Kiiru, who was out past curfew on August 18 in Nairobi’s Kayole neighborhood. Police reportedly shot teargas to disperse protests that broke out the next day in response to the killing. IPOA was investigating Kiiru’s death.

In March 2020 the government began enforcing a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. The government lifted the curfew in October. Media and human rights groups reported police used excessive and arbitrary force to enforce these measures, which led to deaths and injuries. As of October 4, IPOA stated it received 103 complaints of police misconduct while enforcing the curfew, involving 23 deaths and 80 injuries from shootings, assaults, and inhuman treatment since the start of the pandemic. Through September 23, the NGO Independent Medico-Legal Unit reported 17 cases of police brutality related to alleged violations of pandemic mitigation protocols. For example, on August 1, police officers in Embu County allegedly killed two brothers for reportedly violating curfew. IPOA launched an investigation on August 4 and recommended murder charges against six police officers. As of year’s end, the case remained in court. Separately, police officer Duncan Ndiema Ndie continued to face a murder charge in the death of 13-year-old Yassin Moyo, who was shot and killed on the balcony of his family’s home in March 2020. As of year’s end, this case also was still in court. Between January and August, the Social Justice Centres Working Group recorded 20 deaths in informal settlements from shootings, beatings, and other violence related to enforcement of COVID-19 measures.

Al-Shabaab terrorists continued to conduct deadly attacks in areas close to the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. On May 3, two government contractors working on a border security project died when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device planted by al-Shabaab extremists in Lamu County. Al-Shabaab militants attacked two cell phone towers on May 12 in Mandera and Wajir Counties, killing three police reservists.

Police failed to prevent vigilante violence in numerous instances but in other cases played a protective role (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

b. Disappearance

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 2020 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, and a criminal investigation remained pending. HAKI alleged security forces conducted 13 enforced disappearances in the coastal region and four in the Nairobi metropolitan area from January to August. In September four unidentified men reportedly abducted Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdusamad, a well-known ethnic Somali scholar, in downtown Nairobi during daylight hours. NGOs expressed concern he had been taken by security forces. Abdiwahab was reunited with his family two weeks later.

In August, NGOs again 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.). HAKI reported authorities in Garissa County found 11 unidentified bodies in the Tana River from June to September. HAKI confirmed that some of the bodies had signs of torture, including hands tied with rope and large stones tied to the bodies.

Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups reportedly continued to abduct civilians in areas bordering Somalia. In August al-Shabaab militants abducted a local government official in Mandera County, whose whereabouts were unknown.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law includes provisions to apply articles of the constitution, including freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; respect and protection of human dignity; and 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 but was rarely used. The government had not instituted the regulations required to implement fully the law’s provisions.

NGOs continued to receive reports of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment by government forces. As of December 21, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit documented 109 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.

The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported police violence was especially prevalent in informal settlements. 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 2020 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 investigated the incident and forwarded recommendations to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), which by year’s end had not announced whether it would charge the officers involved.

Impunity remained a serious problem. Authorities investigated and prosecuted several police officers for committing killings, which resulted in one new murder conviction during the year. Four additional police officers were convicted of manslaughter and sexual assault. In February the Gatundu Law Courts sentenced Constable Paul Kipkoech Rotich to 40 years in prison for sexual offenses against a minor. In February the Busia Law Courts sentenced Constable James Kinyua to 10 years’ imprisonment for raping a high school student. In June the Garissa High Court convicted Officers Dennis Langat and Kennedy Okuli of manslaughter in the death of a woman whose son was accused of possessing and selling marijuana. As of November, Langat and Okuli were awaiting sentencing. In July the Naivasha High Court sentenced Constable Evans Maliachi to 20 years in prison for the 2016 murder of a fisherman in Naivasha.

Since its inception in 2012, IPOA has investigated 887 deaths allegedly caused by police. These investigations have led to nine murder convictions. Additionally, IPOA conducted investigations that led to four additional convictions for crimes such as attempted murder and rape, for a total of 13 police officer convictions since 2012.

Human rights groups also noted the government failed to provide compensation and redress to families of victims. In September 2020 several human rights groups filed a 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, which remained pending in court, also called on the government to implement laws intended to address human rights violations and protect victims.

Victims of police abuse may file complaints at regional police stations, police headquarters through the Internal Affairs Unit and its hotline, and through the IPOA website and hotline (see section 5). 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.

The National Police Service continued efforts launched in August 2020 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.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights organizations reported prison, detention center, and police station conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, food and water shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: In February the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) reported the average daily prisoner population for 2019-20 was 41,500, of which more than 15,000 were pretrial detainees. The NCAJ reported authorities had released approximately 14,000 prisoners since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce overcrowding. Authorities also continued a prison decongestion program that entailed releasing petty offenders and encouraging the judiciary to increase use of a community service program in its sentencing. Although several new prisons were constructed since 2012, the average prisoner population remained nearly 200 percent of capacity, including a large population of pretrial detainees; some prisons held up to 400 percent of capacity. Six new women’s prisons were added since 2018 to ease congestion in facilities for women.

During the year the judiciary took steps to address overcrowding by developing alternatives to pretrial detention and promoting sentence reduction, including through the expanded use of plea bargaining.

Authorities generally separated minors from adults except during the initial detention period at police stations, when authorities often held male and female adults and minors in a single cell. Several counties lacked adequate facilities to hold minors and women apart from men in courts and police stations. According to IPOA, 73 percent of police facilities had separate cells for women, 18 percent had separate cells for female juveniles, and 41 percent had separate cells for male juveniles. IPOA reported some police facilities used offices and corridors as holding places for minors and that some facilities had converted cells into storage and office space due to space constraints. According to the prison commissioner, the Prisons Service included four correction facilities for minors. Prison officials reported that, because there were few correction facilities for minors, authorities often had to transport them long distances to serve their sentences, spending nights at police stations under varying conditions along the way.

The law allows children to stay with their mothers in certain circumstances until age four or until arrangements for their care outside the facilities are concluded, whichever is earlier.

Prisoners generally received three meals a day, but portions were inadequate. Access to water improved slightly overall, although provision of drinking water declined at some facilities. Prisoners generally spent most of their time indoors in inadequately lit and poorly ventilated cellblocks.

In September the Ministry of Interior began mass COVID-19 vaccination of the prison population and staff to facilitate resumption of family visitations and in-person trials for pretrial detainees. The prison commissioner reported, however, the prison system continued to face serious health and welfare problems due to communicable diseases such as tuberculosis. NGOs reported that women inmates sometimes performed unpaid labor, including cooking, laundry, and cleaning.

Administration: The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights reported improved access to prisons and detention facilities to monitor human rights standards. The Commission on the Administration of Justice serves as ombudsman over government administration of prisons. It receives confidential correspondence from inmates and recommends remedies to address their concerns, including those pertaining to prison living conditions and administration. Many government-designated human rights officers lacked necessary training, and some prisons did not have a human rights officer.

Prison officials sometimes denied prisoners and detainees the right to contact relatives or lawyers. Family members who wanted to visit prisoners commonly reported bureaucratic obstacles that generally required a bribe to resolve. NGOs reported prisoners had reasonable access to legal counsel and other official visitors, although there was insufficient space in many prisons and jails to meet with visitors in private and conduct confidential conversations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers and foreign diplomats.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arrest or detention without a court order unless there are reasonable grounds for believing a suspect has committed or is about to commit a criminal offense. Police, however, arrested and detained persons arbitrarily, accused them of a crime to mask underlying police abuses, or accused them of more severe crimes than they had committed. For example, legal rights NGOs and prison officials reported overuse of the charge of “robbery with violence” that may carry a life sentence, even when violence or threats of violence were insignificant. Some petty offenders consequently received disproportionately heavy sentences.

Poor casework, incompetence, and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judges undermined prosecutions. Police also frequently failed to enter detainees into custody records, making it difficult to locate them. Dispute resolution at police stations resolved a significant number of crimes, but authorities did not report or record them, according to human rights organizations.

NGOs reported arbitrary arrests and detention of activists, journalists, and bloggers during the year. The Defenders Coalition said it had provided support, including legal representation and bail, to 79 activists who had been arrested or detained through September. Most activists were released within short periods, usually less than 24 hours, and in most cases prosecutors either declined to press charges or courts dismissed the cases. The NGO Article 19 recorded 51 attacks against journalists, including online communicators, between May 2020 and April.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides police with broad powers of arrest. Police officers may make arrests without a warrant if they suspect a crime occurred, is happening, or is imminent. Victims’ rights NGOs reported that in some cases authorities required victims to pay bribes and to provide transportation for police to a suspect’s location to execute a legal arrest warrant.

The constitution’s bill of rights provides significant ‎legal protections, including provisions requiring arrested persons to be arraigned, charged, informed of the reason for continuing their detention, or released within 24 hours of their arrest as well as provisions requiring the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus to allow a court to determine the lawfulness of detention. In many cases, however, authorities did not follow the prescribed time limits. While authorities in many cases released detainees held longer than the prescribed period, some cases did not result in an acquittal, and authorities provided no compensation for time served in pretrial detention.

The constitution establishes the right of suspects to bail unless there are compelling reasons militating against release. There is a functioning bail system, and all suspects, including those accused of capital offenses, are eligible for bail. Many suspects remained in jail for months pending trial because of their inability to post bail. Due to overcrowding in prisons, courts rarely denied bail to individuals who could pay it, even when the circumstances warranted denial. For example, NGOs that worked with survivors of sexual assault complained authorities granted bail to suspects even in cases in which there was evidence they posed a continuing threat to survivors.

Although the law provides pretrial detainees with the right to access family members and attorneys, family members of detainees frequently complained authorities permitted access only upon payment of bribes. When detainees could afford counsel, police generally permitted access to attorneys.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Victims of arbitrary arrest were generally poor young men, particularly those living in informal settlements. Human rights organizations complained security forces made widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions during counterterrorism operations. These arrests reportedly targeted Muslim citizens, including ethnic Somalis.

The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported arrests continued in informal settlements during the pandemic for noncompliance with the curfew or failure to wear masks. Individuals were asked to pay cash bail or a bribe to be released. The NCAJ directed that, during the COVID-19 period, petty offenders should not be held at police stations for more than 24 hours and should be released either on cash bail or on free police bond.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem and contributed significantly to prison overcrowding. In 2020 approximately 40 percent of total inmates were pretrial detainees. Authorities held some defendants in pretrial detention longer than the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for the crime for which they were charged. The government claimed the average time spent in pretrial detention was 14 days, but there were reports many detainees spent two to three years in prison before their trials were completed. Police from the arresting locale were responsible for bringing detainees from prison to court when hearings are scheduled but often failed to do so, forcing detainees to wait for the next hearing of their case (see section 1.e.).

During the year courts procured new equipment to increase access to virtual proceedings. In-person hearings and trials resumed partially, despite many court facilities having limited capacity to fully comply with the government’s COVID-19 restrictions. In March, for example, Milimani Court’s Family Division closed temporarily following an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff members.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law entitles persons arrested or detained to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but that right was not always protected.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although the government did not always respect judicial impartiality. The government sometimes undermined the independence of the judiciary and at times did not respect court orders, but the outcomes of trials did not appear to be predetermined.

The Judicial Service Commission, a constitutionally mandated oversight body intended to insulate the judiciary from political pressure, provides the president with a list of nominees for judicial appointment. The president selects one of the nominees for parliamentary approval. The president appoints the chief justice and appellate and High Court judges through this process. The commission publicly reviews judicial appointees. In May the president appointed 34 judges but declined to appoint six of the commission’s nominees. The chief justice called on the president to appoint the remaining six nominees.

In November the judiciary issued the State of the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice Report for 2020-2021, which noted that the number of pending cases continued to grow, expanding by 5 percent compared with the prior year to more than 649,000 cases, primarily due to the adverse effects of the pandemic on court operations. The number of severely backlogged cases pending for more than five years fell from 35,359 to 34,648, continuing a downward trend.

The constitution gives the judiciary authority to review appointments and decisions made by other branches of government. Parliament generally adhered to judicial decisions, with some exceptions. In September 2020 the chief justice advised the president to dissolve parliament for its failure to adhere to four prior court orders directing the legislature to implement constitutional provisions mandating that no more than two-thirds of elected and appointed positions be persons of the same gender. A court suspended the chief justice’s advice pending a hearing by a judicial panel, and the hearing remained pending at year’s end.

Witness harassment and fear of retaliation severely inhibited the investigation and prosecution of major crimes. For example, in March an official from the National Land Commission was killed days before she was scheduled to testify in a fraud case involving 18 government officials, including a member of parliament and a former principal secretary. In May authorities charged one person not directly connected to the fraud case with murder. The Witness Protection Agency was underfunded, and doubts about its independence were widespread. Nevertheless, the Witness Protection Agency continued to work closely with IPOA and other investigative bodies to provide security for witnesses and victims.

The law provides for qadi courts that adjudicate Muslim law on marriage, divorce, and inheritance among Muslims. There are no other traditional courts. The national courts use the traditional law of an ethnic group as a guide in personal matters, if it does not conflict with statutory law.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although vulnerable individuals may give some testimony in closed session; the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to attend their trials, confront witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. The law also provides defendants the right to receive prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary, including during trials; to be tried without undue delay; to have access to government-held evidence; to be represented by an attorney of their choice or to have one appointed at the state’s expense if substantial injustice would otherwise result; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and if convicted, to appeal to or apply for review by a higher court. Authorities generally respected these rights, although they did not always promptly inform persons of the charges against them.

The NCAJ and the ODPP continued efforts to disseminate speedy case resolution techniques to reduce case backlog and ease prison congestion. In July 2020 the ODPP published decision to charge guidelines, which encourage use of plea bargaining and diversion to resolve cases. It also continued to educate prosecutors, judges, court user committees, civil society members, and others on the role of speedy resolution mechanisms in enhancing efficiency. In July the ODPP conducted decision to charge training for 54 prosecutors in the Coast region.

Authorities generally respected a defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare a defense. The government and courts generally respected these rights. There was no government-sponsored public defenders service, and courts continued to try most defendants without representation because they could not afford legal counsel.

By government order the judiciary continued to suspend all but urgent operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020 the judiciary commenced virtual court sessions. NGOs, including the Legal Resources Foundation and Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya, provided computers and internet connectivity to enable remandees to connect with courts virtually. Most litigants, however, did not have the ability to participate in the virtual court sessions, and many cases could not proceed to trial because witnesses lacked the ability to connect with the courts virtually.

The National Legal Aid Service facilitates access to justice, with the goal of providing pro bono services for indigent defendants who cannot afford legal representation. Other pro bono legal aid was available only in major cities where some human rights organizations, notably the NGO Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya provided services. The Prisons Service collaborated with various paralegal organizations such as Kituo Cha Sheria and Legal Resources Foundation Trust to establish justice centers within prisons to facilitate delivery of legal aid. Pretrial detainees also received instructions on how to self-represent in court. Government-established special committees, which included paralegals and prison officials, also served to increase prisoners’ access to the judicial system. NGOs noted no single system provides “primary justice” to prisoners and detainees, who instead relied on a patchwork of services largely provided by NGOs.

Discovery laws are not clearly defined, handicapping defense lawyers. Implementation of a High Court ruling requiring provision of written statements to the defense before trial remained inconsistent. Defense lawyers often did not have access to government-held evidence before a trial. There were reports the government sometimes invoked the Official Secrets Act as a basis for withholding evidence.

Defendants may appeal a verdict to the High Court and ultimately to the Court of Appeal and, for some matters, to the Supreme Court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may use the civil court system to seek damages for violations of human rights and may appeal decisions to the Supreme Court as well as to the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

According to human rights NGOs, bribes, extortion, and political considerations influenced the outcomes in some civil cases. Court fees for filing and hearing civil cases effectively barred many from access to the courts. NGOs reported the government was slow to comply with court orders requiring compensation for victims of torture and other police abuses in some cases. Groups also reported victims relied on civil society organizations for rehabilitative services.

Property Seizure and Restitution

There is no established system for restitution or compensation for those declared to be squatters and ordered to vacate land. Both private and communal clashes were common because of land disputes. The government used forced eviction and demolition to regain what it claimed was illegally occupied public land. Reports of evictions continued despite a May 2020 government declaration of a moratorium on forced evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the governmental Kenya Railways Corporation forcefully evicted 3,500 members of the Nubian community in Kisumu. One child reportedly died after being trapped under the rubble of razed homes. Human rights organizations claimed the evictions were carried out in violation of a presidential moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August the Environment and Land Court ruled the eviction was illegal and that victims could file civil suit against the Kenya Railways Corporation for compensation.

In April approximately 5,000 persons in Embu were forcefully evicted from a piece of land allegedly owned by the governmental Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority. Police arrested one member of parliament, who was protesting the evictions, and nine journalists covering the incident.

In August the Environment and Land Court barred the National Land Commission from evicting 1,000 squatters from Nairobi’s Mathare Mabatini informal settlement. The court ruled the commission’s commercial development plan was unlawful and violated the government’s policy of upgrading informal settlements.

In 2017 the African Union Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled in favor of the indigenous Ogiek community evicted in 2009 from the Mau Forest. The court ruled government actions had violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which the country is a signatory. The government-appointed task force established to implement the decision provided its final report to the cabinet secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry in January 2020 but did not release the report publicly. The government task force appointed in 2020 to review the Mau Forest boundaries did not make substantive progress during the year.

In March the Sengwer community appealed a 2020 ruling that dismissed petitions filed in 2013 and 2018 protesting evictions from Embobut Forest in Elgeyo Marakwet County. The court halted further evictions. In October the East African Court of Justice began hearing a case filed in 2018 against the government by victims of unlawful evictions from the Mau Forest seeking compensation.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, except “to promote public benefit,” but authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The law permits police to enter a home without a search warrant if the time required to obtain a warrant would prejudice an investigation. Although security officers generally obtained search warrants, they occasionally conducted searches without warrants during large-scale security sweeps to apprehend suspected criminals or to seize property believed stolen.

Human rights organizations reported police officers raided homes in informal settlements in Nairobi and communities in the coast region in search of suspected terrorists and weapons. The organizations documented numerous cases in which plainclothes police officers searched residences without a warrant, and household goods were confiscated when residents were unable to provide receipts of purchase on demand. Rights groups reported police in numerous locations broke into homes and businesses and extorted money from residents while enforcing measures to control the pandemic. The government continued efforts to implement the law that requires citizens to register their personal details, including biometrics, to receive a card with a unique identifier number required to access public services, widely known as a Huduma Namba card. By September the government had created 10.5 million cards, but only 7.3 million had been collected by citizens. In October the High Court declared the Huduma Namba system invalid because the government failed to conduct a data impact assessment prior to rolling out the new cards. Legal activists had challenged the Huduma Namba system on the grounds it lacked sufficient data protection safeguards.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Expression: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional the section of the penal code that criminalized “undermining the authority of a public officer,” ruling the provision violated the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Other provisions of the constitution and the law prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. The Judicial Service Commission, however, reported many cases were withdrawn due to failure of witnesses to appear in court or to facilitate mediation. Cases that did proceed often failed to meet evidentiary requirements.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict freedom of expression for members of the press, and officials occasionally accused international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. The government was media’s largest source of advertising revenue and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners. Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers were free to publish opinion pieces criticizing the government.

Sixteen other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of expression for members of the press. As of year’s end, the government had not issued regulations required to implement fully the 2016 Access to Information Act, which promotes government transparency, and civil society organizations reported government departments failed in some instances to disclose information.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated or assaulted them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of media or failed to provide victims access to information about their cases. The NGO Article 19 Eastern Africa reported there were 51 attacks against journalists between May 2020 and April, including nine female journalists, compared with 59 such incidents during the prior year. Attacks included threats, intimidation, online and offline harassment, invasion of media houses, and physical assaults resulting in some journalists seeking self-exile or engaging in self-censorship.

In March journalists Regina Wangui, Kigotho John Mwangi, Evans Asiba, and Elijah Cherutich sustained serious injuries from attacks by supporters of the United Democratic Alliance party while covering voting in a by-election at Milimani Primary School in Nakuru County. One of the victims of the incident told Article 19 Eastern Africa that despite filing a report at the Nakuru central police station, there was no evidence of an investigation into the attacks, and that police were unable to provide information on the status of the case.

In April police assaulted nine journalists in Embu County who were covering a story regarding the forceful eviction by police officers of families from contested land allegedly belonging to the Tana and Athi River Development Authority (TARDA). In May police again beat and arrested three journalists reporting on a demonstration by residents who opposed a land demarcation claimed by TARDA.

In April police officers beat and arrested Milele FM journalist David Omurunga for violating the COVID-19 curfew while walking home after work, although he presented his national identification card and official press card.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists that government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists were fired due to pressure from government officials seeking to sway editorial content. This caused some journalists to avoid covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure. Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family or assets owned by the Kenyatta family.

In April the director of criminal investigations (DCI) issued a summons to Royal Media Services journalists in response to the broadcast of a television expose on the sale and rental of firearms and other equipment from police officers. The DCI accused Royal Media Services of “abuse of media freedom” and called the program, which was shown on April 18, “a malicious attempt to discredit the National Police Service.”

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional a portion of the law that defined the offense of criminal defamation. Libel and slander remain civil offenses.

In August the cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government threatened to sue political strategist Dennis Itumbi for libel stemming from a series of tweets in which Itumbi accused the cabinet secretary of stealing land. The cabinet secretary threatened legal action if Itumbi did not issue an unconditional apology and retract the tweets.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, the government sometimes restricted these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat. In March 2020 the government began enforcing government directives to stem the spread of COVID-19, including a curfew and restrictions on public gatherings.

Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. The local press reported on multiple occasions that police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators or crowds of various types. In May police used tear gas against protesters demonstrating against police brutality and COVID-19 lockdown measures. Police arrested at least one protester and reportedly shot a journalist twice with teargas cannisters.

The NGO Defenders Coalition recorded 31 arrests of human rights defenders through September, mostly for alleged violations of COVID-19 restrictions.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. NGOs continued to express concerns regarding reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. Human rights groups noted activists continued to face increased attacks in a climate of impunity (see section 5).

There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers were dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights (see section 7.a.).

The law requires every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the registrar of societies. The law requires NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research to register with the NGO Coordination Board. It also requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.

Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the 2013 Public Benefits Organization Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities, the act had not been implemented by year’s end.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases, although some groups reported experiencing government harassment. Officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to the queries of these groups, but the government did not implement recommendations by human rights groups if such recommendations were contrary to its policies. There were reports officials intimidated NGOs and threatened to disrupt their activities (see section 2.b.). Less-established NGOs, particularly in rural areas, reported harassment and threats by county officials as well as security forces. Human rights activists claimed security forces conducted surveillance of their activities, and some reported threats and intimidation.

There were also reports that officials and police officers threatened activists who sought justice for police killings and other serious abuses. The intimidation included threats of arrest, warnings not to post information about police brutality, home and office raids, and confiscation of laptops and other equipment.

In July the government began the process of reviewing host country agreements for 115 international governmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations. Civil society activists expressed concern this process could be used to target organizations carrying out activities unaligned with government policy.

The Civil Society Reference Group condemned the July 15 killing of environmentalist Joannah Stutchbury at her home in Kiambu. According to the group’s statement, Stutchbury was killed because of her efforts to prevent individuals from excising parts of the Kiambu forest and wetlands. The group described her killing as evidence of a hostile and shrinking environment for human rights defenders. The Senate launched an inquiry into her killing, and a law enforcement investigation continued at year’s end.

In September the High Court ruled that four police officers and one civilian must stand trial for the 2016 triple homicide of International Justice Mission lawyer and investigator Willie Kimani, client Josphat Mwenda, and their driver Joseph Muiruri. The trial was underway at year’s end.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights reported security agencies continued to deny it full access to case-specific information and facilities to conduct investigations of human rights abuses as the constitution permits. The commission, however, noted improved access to detention facilities during the year.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights is an independent institution created by the constitution and established in 2011. Its mandate is to promote and protect human rights in the country. The body’s commissioners completed their terms in March 2020. In August the president officially announced the vacancies, and in September the government appointed a selection panel to interview and recommend nominees for formal appointment. The president nominated a new chairperson and four commissioners on December 29, but at year’s end they were awaiting parliamentary approval. The commission continued to function under the management of the CEO. Citing budget restrictions, the government again reduced the commission’s operating budget. The commission stated the budget was not sufficient to cover its expenses and fulfill its mandate. Its programmatic budget was entirely unfunded by the government, forcing the commission to secure funding from development partners.

The NPSC and IPOA, both government bodies, report to the National Assembly. The NPSC consists of six civilian commissioners, including two retired police officers, as well as the National Police Service inspector general and two deputies. The NPSC is responsible for recruiting, transferring, vetting, promoting, and disciplining National Police Service members.

The ODPP is empowered to direct the National Police Service inspector general to investigate any information or allegation of criminal conduct and to institute criminal proceedings in police abuse or corruption cases.

Police accountability mechanisms, including those of the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) and IPOA, maintained their capacity to investigate cases of police abuse. The IAU director reports directly to the National Police Service inspector general. The IAU did not hire any new officers or support staff during the year. It maintained 127 officers and 14 civilian support staff. Most investigators previously served in the Kenya Police Service and the Administration Police Service. The IAU conducts investigations into police misconduct, including criminal offenses not covered by IPOA. Between January and September, the IAU received approximately 715 complaints, down from 1,400 during the prior year. The EACC, an independent agency, investigates cases involving police corruption. IPOA also helps to train police officers on preventing abuses and other human rights issues but reported it did not conduct any human rights training during the year.

Between July 2020 and June 30, IPOA received 2,881 complaints, bringing the total since its inception in 2012 to 139,490 complaints. IPOA defines five categories of complaints. Category one complaints comprise the most serious crimes, such as murder, torture, rape, and serious injury, and result in an automatic investigation. In category two, serious crimes, such as assault without serious injury, are investigated on a case-by-case basis. Categories three to five, for less serious crimes, are generally not investigated, although during the year IPOA and the IAU entered regular dialogue about referring cases deemed less serious offenses for disciplinary action. If, after investigation, IPOA determines there is criminal liability in a case, it forwards the case to the ODPP. IPOA hired two new staff members between July 2020 and October and was in the process of replacing its CEO, who retired in August. IPOA’s budget for the financial year starting July 1 was reduced by approximately 1.6 percent due to economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and IPOA anticipated further budget reductions.

Although the law requires the NPSC to vet all serving police officers, it had not vetted any officers since the new commission took office in January 2019. Vetting required an assessment of each officer’s fitness to serve based on a review of documentation, including financial records, certificates of good conduct, and a questionnaire, as well as public input alleging abuse or misconduct. The NPSC reported it had vetted more than 15,000 officers since 2012.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although the constitution declares the state shall not discriminate against any person based on race, societal discrimination against persons of different racial and ethnic groups was common. Enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination was inadequate, according to human rights groups. The 2019 census recognized 45 ethnic groups in the country; none holds a majority. The Kikuyu and related groups dominated much of private commerce and industry and often purchased land outside their traditional home areas, which sometimes resulted in fierce resentment from other ethnic groups, especially in the coastal and Rift Valley areas. Competition for water and pasture was especially serious in the north and northeast.

There was frequent conflict, including banditry, fights over land, and cattle rustling, among the Somali, Turkana, Gabbra, Borana, Samburu, Rendille, and Pokot ethnic groups in arid northern, eastern, and Rift Valley areas that at times resulted in deaths. Disputes regarding county borders were also a source of ethnic tensions.

Media reported at least 18 persons died in July during tribal clashes regarding resources in Marsabit County along the border with Ethiopia. The government deployed security forces to stop the fighting, which had plagued the region for many years.

In September media reported at least eight persons died, and dozens of homes were burned in Laikipia County, as armed herders invaded privately run nature conservancies in search of water and grazing land for their livestock. In October the government deployed an interagency team to quell the violence after fighting broke out again.

Ethnic differences also caused several discriminatory employment practices (see section 7.d.).

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future