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Amnesty International Report 2000 - Kenya

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2000 - Kenya , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Republic of Kenya

Head of state and government: Daniel arap Moi
Capital: Nairobi
Population: 28.7 million
Official languages: English, Swahili
Death penalty: retentionist
1999 treaty ratifications/signatures: Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders, politicians, journalists and others continued to be harassed, ill-treated or detained for non-violent activities. Torture by security officials was widespread, causing a number of deaths in custody. Excessive force was used by police against peaceful protesters, and in a number of incidents the police made no attempt to stop vigilante groups from attacking peaceful demonstrators. Scores of people were killed by police during the year; some may have been extrajudicially executed. Prison conditions remained harsh. At least 55 people were sentenced to death, and more than 1,000 people were under sentence of death at the end of 1999.


Human rights violations were committed in a context of widespread popular calls for constitutional and legal reform. The promise of constitutional reform, which appeared to be making progress when President Daniel arap Moi signed into law the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission Act in December 1998, delayed all other law reform. The Act provided for a review commission to examine federal and unitary systems of government and to make recommendations on electoral systems (including the composition and functions of the executive, judiciary and legislature). However, in January 1999 the process stalled over the allocation of seats in the commission. In December a parliamentary select committee was established to review the Act. A parallel review process was set up by religious leaders and others who opposed parliament's control of constitutional reform.

In August a judicial commission of inquiry set up in 1998 to investigate the causes of the political violence that has affected Kenya since 1992 submitted its report to President Moi. It had not been made public by the end of 1999.

In September, in an attempt to reduce government spending and tackle corruption, there was a major government reshuffle which resulted in the number of ministries being reduced from 27 to 15, although the number of ministers remained the same.

In November Kenyan women's groups campaigning for the introduction of legislation against domestic violence expressed concern at the increase of violence against women. They said that the majority of cases were not reported, that police records in domestic violence cases were inaccurate and not even available in one of Kenya's eight provinces, and that prosecutions were rare and sentencing lenient.


Although human rights violations by security officials continued to be widespread, there were few investigations into alleged violations. In April the then Chief Justice, Zacchaeus Chesoni, stated that investigations into torture allegations were rare despite the fact that one in three suspects brought to court in Kenya alleged that they had been tortured. When investigations were carried out, in many cases the findings were not made public and no further action appeared to have been taken.

  • On 23 May members of the Kenyan military, together with police officers, attacked Kenyan herdsmen of the Gabbra community at the Baresa water point in Marsabit District, Eastern Province. More than 70 herdsmen were stripped naked, tortured and threatened with execution. No details of the investigation announced by the Department of Defence into the incident were made public, and the investigation led to no arrests. The military had been sent to the area ostensibly to engage in a mine-clearing exercise. It was not clear who was responsible for planting the landmines, but there had been reports of several skirmishes in the North Eastern and Eastern provinces involving the Kenyan security forces, Ethiopian government forces and the Oromo Liberation Front, an Ethiopian armed opposition group.

Judicial proceedings against law enforcement officers accused of torturing or killing prisoners usually occurred only after sustained pressure, and were subject to long delays.

  • Four police officers charged in 1996 with the murder of Rosemary Nyambura, who died in Ruaraka police station in May 1992, had not been brought to court seven years after her death. A post-mortem indicated that she died of ruptured kidneys and spleen.


Police torture was systematic, primarily for common criminals. At least seven people died in custody apparently as a result of torture.

  • In May the Appeal Court ordered the retrial of two police officers sentenced in 1997 to 10 years' imprisonment for torturing a suspect to death in 1994. The third officer convicted with them died in prison.


Scores of people were killed by police during the year; some may have been extrajudicially executed. Some criminal suspects were shot dead by police even though they appeared to pose no threat. Excessive force continued to be used by riot police. Investigations were rare, prosecutions virtually non-existent.

  • In July Antony Mwangi Kamau, a 22-year-old member of the Mungiki religious sect, was shot dead when members of the sect began throwing stones at the police who were trying to arrest their leader.

Freedom of expression and association

Meetings organized by government critics, opposition members of parliament, and others were violently disrupted by the police. Meetings held by farmers to complain about agricultural pricing policies and local officials were broken up by the police using tear gas and dogs. On several occasions security guards, vigilante groups and others violently disrupted peaceful meetings or demonstrations while the police present did nothing to stop the violence.

  • In January Wangari Maathai, a prominent human rights and environmental activist, was hit on the head by security guards while police watched, during a demonstration against the handover of public land to developers in Karura Forest, northern Nairobi. The Attorney General later ordered an investigation, but it was not known if anyone was arrested in connection with the incident.

Journalists reporting political meetings were also targeted by the police.

  • In May at a rally in Ugunja town, Nyanza province, journalists were charged by riot police while filing their stories from nearby phone booths. The police had declared the rally illegal and had dispersed the crowds using batons and teargas.
  • On 10 June scores of demonstrators were hurt by police when participants at a rally organized by pro-democracy advocates and church groups decided to march on the Kenyan Parliament. Demonstrators were prevented from reaching parliament by police officers who violently broke up the march using batons, teargas, stun grenades and water cannon – riot control equipment purchased from South Africa. The Reverend Timothy Njoya, who led the march, was attacked by two men, believed to be members of Jeshi la Mzee (the Old Man's army), a pro-government group, who used their fists, boots and sticks to beat him to the ground and broke his arm while uniformed police watched. Following a public outcry, one man was later arrested and charged with assaulting Reverend Njoya. The man was released on bail.

In August Tony Gachoka, editor of the Post on Sunday, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for contempt of court after an unfair trial. The trial followed articles in the Post on Sunday accusing the Court of Appeal and the Chief Justice of corruption arising from Kenya's biggest corruption scandal, known as "Goldenberg". He was released on 3 November following a presidential pardon.


Mass arrests of refugees and asylum-seekers were reported in August and September. Most were from Somalia and Ethiopia. Some were arrested in a refugee camp near Mombasa. There were reports of ill-treatment by the police and threats of forcible return to countries where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations. It is not known if any refugees were forcibly returned to their country of origin.

In November the Kenyan authorities refused to allow 4,700 refugees, including women and children, into Kenya from Ethiopia on the grounds that they did not have Kenyan identification documents. Concern was expressed by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, which had been assisting with their repatriation, that the refugees faced severe food shortages at Moyale trading centre, a border town, where they were being temporarily housed.

Death penalty and prison conditions

The death penalty continued to be imposed frequently and an increasing number of suspects appeared to be being charged with capital offences. At least 55 prisoners were sentenced to death during 1999, the majority after unfair trials at magistrates' courts, where defendants do not have the right to legal aid. Although no one has been executed for more than 10 years, hundreds of prisoners remained under sentence of death, some of them for many years. Prison conditions are life-threatening and in many prisons amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

  • In October a magistrate was so concerned about conditions in Kapsabet prison that he threatened to release all the prisoners. Severe overcrowding and the disconnection of the prison's water supply, forcing prisoners to use untreated water from local rivers, had resulted in an outbreak of infectious diseases.

Intergovernmental organizations

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture visited Kenya in September to investigate allegations of torture. The Rapporteur's report was still pending at the end of the year.

AI country visit

AI delegates visited Kenya in June and met human rights activists, torture victims and their relatives.

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