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Kenya Law Enforcement Must Avoid Using Dangerous Crowd-Control Weapons Against Protestors: PHR

Kenyan law enforcement must cease their misuse of crowd-control weapons during ongoing protests across the country, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today. 

“Law enforcement officials who are meant to protect civilians used lethal tactics against protestors and medical personnel trying to help people. Such use of force constitutes a clear violation of human rights,” said Suzanne Kidenda, acting head of office of PHR-Kenya.  “The police need to be held accountable for these violations and the Kenyans who were killed or gravely injured deserve justice. We urge the authorities to prioritize the safety and rights of all individuals during protests and to uphold the principles of human rights.” 

The deployment of crowd-control weapons against demonstrators undermines the rights of individuals to peacefully assemble, and express dissent as allowed for in the Kenyan Constitution and international law. Weapons such as tear gas and rubber bullets can result in severe and permanent injuries, hospitalizations for respiratory distress and even fatalities, especially when used excessively. The use of live ammunition against unarmed protesters is never acceptable. This has been demonstrated over the past week with the reported deaths of at least 29 protestors and hundreds injured across the country. 

“Rubber bullets and tear gas have maimed, blinded, and killed hundreds if not thousands of protesters globally over the years. These weapons are not designed for precise targeting and often cause indiscriminate harm to bystanders, children, and anyone who happens to be in the area. The injuries we see range from severe pain and suffocation to broken bones and severe eye and head trauma. Unnecessary, inappropriate, or excessive use makes  this worse and must be avoided in Kenya and globally,” said Dr. Rohini Haar, emergency medicine physician, PHR medical advisor, and author of Lethal in Disguise 2: How Crowd Control Weapons Impact Health and Human Rights, a seminal report co-published by PHR and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO). 

PHR also condemned the reported targeting of medical practitioners and a medical camp set up to attend to injured demonstrators. Health workers must be allowed to have access to and care for the wounded. 

PHR urged the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) to investigate all incidents involving the use of these weapons as a critical step towards ensuring justice for any violations of human rights perpetrated by police officers during the largely peaceful protests. Those responsible for the misuse of crowd control weapons must be held accountable under both Kenyan law and international human rights standards. 

Simultaneously, PHR encourages protesters to be aware of their rights and take precautions to stay safe during demonstrations. PHR has published resources and guidance on how individuals can protect themselves in protest situations, including information on minimizing exposure to crowd-control weapons.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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