UN warns against human rights abuses over steps to stop spread of COVID-19 as Kenyans condemn police brutality to enforce a curfew

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A police officer clobbers a motorist at Nakuru KFA roundabout while enforcing the dusk-to-dawn curfew to stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. PHOTO/STANDARD

By PATRICK MAYOYO

United Nations human rights experts have called on governments across the world to respect human rights as they put in place public health and emergency measures, to battle the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The call come at a time the Kenya government is on the spot following police brutality in their efforts to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew announced by the government as part of a series of sweeping measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The curfew starts at 7 pm and ends at 5 am.

At least three people have reportedly been killed by police action, including a 13-year-old boy who was hit by a stray bullet on Monday evening.

Kenya has reported more than 120 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus since its outbreak in the city of Wuhan, China and at least three deaths.

The UN experts cited people with disabilities, older persons, minority communities, the internally displaced and those living in extreme poverty, as well as people in detention, the homeless, refugees and other groups needing government support.

“Everyone, without exception, has the right to life-saving interventions and this responsibility lies with the government”, said the group of 42 experts – representing nearly every independent rights specialist working within the Human Rights Council-mandated system.

According to the experts, throughout this crisis, the business sector in particular has a responsibility to protect human rights.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has apologised to Kenyans following reports of police brutality as they implemented the dusk to dawn curfew in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“I want to apologise to all Kenyans, maybe for some excesses which were conducted or happened,” President Kenyatta said during a virtual meeting with recovered coronavirus patients, Brenda and Brian. Brenda was Kenya’s first coronavirus patient.

Kenya has imposed sweeping restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The curfew, which requires people to stay in their homes from dusk to dawn, is the most stringent limitation and has led to a wave of police violence.

Human rights groups have condemned the “unnecessary and excessive use of force” by Kenyan police as the country imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew amid efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

On March 27, police fired tear gas at a crowd of ferry commuters in the port city of Mombasa before the 7pm to 5am curfew came into force, 20 human rights groups, including Amnesty International, said in a statement.

This forced hundreds of people to touch their faces as they vomited, spat and wiped away tears, increasing the chance of the virus’s spread, the statement added.

Some health workers even reported being intimidated by police officers as they tried to provide services after the curfew, according to the rights groups.

Elsewhere, according to Aljazeera officers were captured in mobile phone footage beating people with batons, causing uproar in the country.

Kenya’s interior ministry in a statement replied to the criticism saying the curfew “is meant to guard against an apparent threat to public health. Breaking it is not only irresponsible but also puts others in harm’s way”.

The guidelines issued to security forces on the curfew say that police can use “proportionate force where non-violent means are inadequate to achieve the objectives of the curfew”.

 

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