NAIROBI, Kenya — The Kenyan government is being sued for police brutality in the violence following the 2007 election.
The lawsuit comes as Kenya prepares for a new election on March 4 amid warnings from international human rights groups that the police are not ready to prevent electoral violence while refraining from human rights violations.
The families of seven people shot dead five years ago and eight wounded survivors this week filed a lawsuit to sue the Kenyan government claiming the shots were fired by police during a dispute over who won Kenya's 2007 presidential election.
Four human rights groups are also part of the suit against the government.
Government records show police shot dead 405 of the more than 1,100 people who died in the post-election violence following a dispute in the presidential race in 2007 general elections. Many of them were shot in the back, according to documents filed by law firm Nderitu Partners and Advocates on behalf of the group late Wednesday.
According to the suit unlawful orders were given to policemen and the government failed to train the officers on lawful methods of how to deal with civil unrest. And the government did not investigate the abuses.
Those suing the government are from western Kenya. In the 2007 elections, the majority of the people in western Kenya supported the main presidential challenger Raila Odinga – who polls had consistently put as the front runner – and took to the streets in violent protests after the electoral authority announced President Mwai Kibaki had been re-elected.
International observers said the presidential vote was flawed.
The violence ended after former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan brokered a peace deal in which Odinga became prime minister in a coalition government. As part of the peace arrangement the coalition government promised to adopt a new constitution, reform the judiciary and police force.
A 2008 government investigation into what caused the violence found that mistrust of the judiciary, which was tainted by allegations of corruption, fueled the violence as politicians chose to protest instead of going to the courts to seek justice. The police force was seen to have taken sides in the chaos fuelling the conflict, the report said.
Efforts to improve the police system have been criticized as ineffectual but ongoing reforms on the judiciary have received praise and have led to recommendations that the government should fire 13 out of the country's 53 high court judges.
For decades Kenya's police have been criticized by advocacy groups for ineffectiveness, endemic corruption, human rights violations and impunity.
A bribe-taking culture exists in the force and officers live in deplorable conditions, are poorly paid, under-equipped and understaffed, outgoing police spokesman Eric Kiraithe admitted last year. "Corruption in the police force is deep and wide," he said.
Human Rights Watch, in a report titled "High Stakes: Political Violence and the 2013 Elections in Kenya," released earlier this month, says police shortcomings are highlighted by the continuing rural violence that in 2012 and early 2013 that has claimed more than 477 lives and displaced about 118,000 people.
"Many of these incidents have been linked to pre-election maneuvering as local politicians mobilize support. The police and other authorities have repeatedly failed to prevent the violence or hold those responsible to account," the rights groups said.
During violent clashes in 2012 and early 2013 the police frequently failed to intervene and when they did, they often used excessive and indiscriminate force, Human Rights Watch said.
Amnesty International at the end of January criticized the pace of reforms in the police force and cast doubt on its preparedness to handle possible violence during the or after the elections.
"The laws guiding the police reform have not been put into practice in time for the general elections. As a result, the very same policing structures blamed by many for serious human rights violations during the 2007-2008 post-election violence remain in place for the 2013 elections," Amnesty International said in the report titled "Police Reform in Kenya: A Drop in the Ocean."
The National Police Service Inspector General David Kimaiyo said Wednesday that the police are ready to tackle any challenges that may be presented by the elections.