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Sunday, July 14th, 2024

Kenyan human rights body condemns use of force during protests against Finance Bill 2024

The Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) has in its fourth report criticised President William Ruto for using brutal force against citizens protesting the Finance Bill 2024, which includes unpopular tax hikes.

The East African country is facing an economic crisis, as Kenya’s total debt stands at US$80 billion, representing 68 per cent of its GDP, well above the maximum of 55 per cent recommended by the World Bank and the IMF.

The majority of Kenya’s debt is held by international bondholders, with China the largest bilateral lender, holding US$5.7 billion in debt.

The debt issue has attracted international scrutiny, with Washington accusing Beijing of “debt trap diplomacy”, although China denies the claim.

Since the protests began on 18 June 2024, the KNCHR has reported 39 deaths and 361 injuries.

“The protests, which were initially peaceful, turned violent on 25 June, causing significant damage to property. Most of the deaths occurred in Nairobi, while other incidents occurred in areas such as Nakuru, Laikipia and Kisumu,” the KNCHR said in its report.

The KNCHR also highlighted cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests, with 32 enforced disappearances and 627 arrests recorded. Many protesters are reportedly in hiding due to threats from unidentified individuals.

The Commission condemned the excessive use of force against protesters, including medical workers, lawyers and journalists.

Property damage included the destruction of the National Library, the County Court in Eldoret, the Governor’s Office in Nairobi, and the Parliament building.

Additionally, there were reports of attacks on properties linked to politicians and on private properties, including the burning of cars and the looting of shops.

The deployment of the Kenya Defence Forces to assist national policing efforts was also discussed.

The KNCHR stressed the need for compliance with legal and human rights standards.

KNCHR Chairperson Roseline Odede reiterated the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of protesters while maintaining law and order.

The unrest highlights Kenya’s economic and political challenges and the urgent need for dialogue to stop the violence and human rights violations.

Largely peaceful anti-tax rallies led by mostly young Generation-Z protesters devolved into deadly violence when lawmakers passed the controversial bill last Tuesday, Al Jazeera reports.

Later, after the vote was announced, a mob vandalised the parliament complex in central Nairobi and the complex was partially set on fire as police opened fire on protesters, Al Jazeera reported.

Notably, it is the most serious crisis facing the government of President William Ruto since he/she took office in September 2022 after a deeply divisive election in a nation often regarded as a beacon of stability in the troubled region.

Furthermore, according to Al Jazeera report, activists have called for fresh protests from Tuesday despite Ruto’s declaration that he/she will not sign the tax hike bill.

Additionally, pamphlets have been posted on social media with the hashtags “Occupy Everywhere”, “Ruto Must Go” and “Reject Budgeted Corruption”.

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