English News

  • youtube
  • facebook
  • twitter

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

Visuals from the protest in Kenya (Photo: credit: Reuters)

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

The East African nation faces an economic crisis as Kenya’s total debt stands at USD 80 billion, representing 68 per cent of its GDP, exceeding the World Bank and IMF’s recommended maximum of 55 per cent.

Most of Kenya’s debt is held by international bondholders, with China being the largest bilateral creditor, owed USD 5.7 billion.

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

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

“Initially peaceful, the demonstrations turned violent on June 25, leading to significant property damage. The majority of fatalities occurred in Nairobi, with others reported in regions including Nakuru, Laikipia, and Kisumu,” the KNCHR said in its report.

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

The Commission condemned the excessive force used against protesters, including medical personnel, lawyers, and journalists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Largely peaceful anti-tax rallies, led by mostly young Gen-Z protesters, descended into shocking scenes of deadly violence last Tuesday when lawmakers passed the contentious legislation, Al Jazeera reported.

Later, following the announcement of the vote, crowds ransacked the parliament complex in central Nairobi and it was partly set ablaze as police fired live bullets at protesters, as reported by Al Jazeera.

Notably, it is the most serious crisis to be confronted by the government of President William Ruto since he took office in September 2022 following a deeply divisive election in a nation often considered a beacon of stability in a turbulent region.

Moreover, fresh protests have been called by activists beginning Tuesday despite Ruto’s announcement that he would not sign into law the bill containing the tax hikes, Al Jazeera reported.

Additionally, leaflets have been posted on social media with the hashtags “Occupy Everywhere”, “Ruto must go” and “Reject Budgeted Corruption.”