Kenya’s failure to hold police accountable for allegedly killing dozens of people since its 2017 election raises the risk of officers abusing their power when the country goes to the polls next week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

The rights group said authorities had failed to investigate allegations of police brutality and failed to implement reforms, raising the threat of violence if the election results are contested next week.

“Failure to deal with police abuses in Kenya’s previous elections risks emboldening them to continue their misconduct during this year’s general elections,” said Atiena Namwaya, HRW’s East Africa director.

Rights groups often accuse the Kenyan police of using excessive force and committing unlawful killings, especially in poor areas.

They were also accused of organizing crackdowns against those investigating alleged police abuses, including activists and lawyers.

HRW said it had documented the killing by police of at least 104 people during the last election in 2017, mostly supporters of Raila Odinga, who was the opposition leader.

After Odinga refused to recognize President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, heavily armed police were deployed to disperse the protesters.

“With just seven days to go before another general election, Kenyan authorities still need to take steps to ensure justice for the police abuses that characterized the 2017 general elections,” the rights group said.

On August 9, Kenyans will elect a new president, as well as hundreds of members of parliament and about 1,500 county officials.

This year’s presidential vote is largely a race between Vice President William Ruto and Odinga, who is backed by Kenyatta and the ruling party.

With a diverse population and large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered from politically motivated violence during elections, particularly after the 2007 poll in which more than 1,100 people died.

HRW said it interviewed activists, government officials, police and victims’ families, who were concerned that law enforcement “will respond harshly” to any violence or public protests if disputes erupt after next week’s vote. — AFP

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