Nairobi News


Maandamano: Medics call on authorities to uphold human rights

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has expressed deep concern over the mounting unrest in Kenya and called for immediate de-escalation of tensions and adherence to international human rights law.

The organization has particularly voiced apprehension about the excessive use of force by security forces against demonstrators and the potential for an increase in sexual violence.

According to Michele Heisler, the medical director at PHR and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan, both Kenyan and international law guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and protest.

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“Under both Kenyan and international law, all people have the right to peaceful assembly and protest. We condemn the wanton and disproportionate force used by authorities against protestors and bystanders. The deployment of live ammunition and indiscriminate use of dangerous crowd-control weapons like rubber bullets and tear gas have had devastating health consequences, including both severe injuries and deaths,” Heisler said.

Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge of PHR Kenya head of office, warned of the heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence during the unrest and urged the Kenyan government to act swiftly to prevent and respond to such cases.

Police officers arrest a demonstrator in Mathare slums, Nairobi County on July 19, 2023 during the anti-government demonstrations. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO

Nyamu-Mathenge stressed the need for upholding the right to peaceful protest as enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution and called for independent investigations into the deaths and injuries of protestors, demanding accountability for those responsible.

“Political leaders must act to prevent sexual violence from occurring, including by making clear to their constituencies that sexual violence will not be tolerated, and committing to hold those who perpetrate such crimes to account, all survivors must be supported with trauma-informed, There is a stark risk for sexual violence amid the unrest so the Government of Kenya must act now to prevent and respond to any cases of sexual and gender-based violence,” Nyamu-Mathenge said.

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Reports of excessive force have been widespread in the country, in recent weeks, with incidents like the hospitalization of 53 primary school children after security forces used tear gas in a Nairobi classroom. The UN Human Rights Office reported that up to 23 people have been killed during the protests.

Nyamu-Mathenge said history has shown how sexual violence often follows and fuels violence during periods of political instability. PHR urged political leaders to take action in preventing sexual violence, making it clear that such crimes will not be tolerated, and holding perpetrators accountable. Survivors must be provided with trauma-informed, survivor-centered care and support.

“The protests and unrest that followed Kenya’s past general elections led to horrific waves of sexual violence perpetrated by security forces and non-state actors; we must not allow history to repeat itself. The Kenyan government is on notice for the heightened risk of sexual violence during periods of political instability and is obliged now to act swiftly to protect civilians from all forms of sexual violence.” Nyamu-Mathenge said.

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