Understanding the True Cost of Extrajudicial Killings

My previous blog post, Evil Triumphs Where Good Men Do Nothing, stirred a storm as it spoke against the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals. In a justice system where criminals rarely get convicted, extrajudicial killings seem like a viable solution to eradicating crime, but what is the true cost of extrajudicial killings?

Public support for the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals legitimises a system of crime response where the police and citizens become prosecutor, judges and executioners of suspected criminals. Our criminal justice system is based on the tenant that all are innocent until proven guilty. This protects all suspected criminals and citizens from arbitrary acts through transparency and checks and balances in the justice system process. Extrajudicial killings bypass this.

Disregard of the due process of the law endangers everyone. Anyone can be accused of any crime and be executed before and without having a chance to publicly defend themselves in court. This risk extends to law abiding citizens, as in the case of Alex Ngugi, 24, who was allegedly shot dead by Administrative Police (AP) Officers on suspicion that he was a notorious criminal. His family insists that his was a case of mistaken identity. Alex Ngugi’s father, 51-year-old medical doctor, body was found a day later as a suspected result of an execution-style killing by the police. Alex father was battling officers from AP camp over his son’s death.

Extrajudicial executions inspire other excesses. Between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013, Human Rights Watch reported that the Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, and otherwise abused and arbitrarily detained at least 1,000 refugees. By allowing such illegal acts by authorities, in the name of enhancing security, we contribute to the culture of haphazard, harmful and arbitrary dispensation of justice.

There is need to address the roots of rampant crime and many social problems by stamping out poverty as the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) one advocates and social idleness. Investment in the realisation of a life of dignity for all should be the priority of any sensible government. Provision of essential services such as education, health, housing, food, water and electricity and other basic needs are a must if we are to eradicate poverty and nurture productive members of the society. Kenya continues to waste human resources because many residents of the country’s informal settlements are unskilled. When all enjoy a productive life of dignity, there will be few left who are prone and vulnerable to dysfunctional behaviour.

Beyond this, there is need to prosecute authorities responsible for extrajudicial killings. Continued denial by the state that extrajudicial killings exist prevents learning and hinders reforms in the criminal justice system. Viewing extrajudicial killings by the police as isolated cases enhance the probability of re-occurrence of this vice.

Lastly, there is need to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system by rooting out corruption in the National Police Service, courts and prosecution service. This will create a system that is prompt and efficient in dispensing justice and reforming citizens. Restoring public confidence that the criminal justice system can work will erode support from a section of the public that supports extrajudicial killings. The most efficient criminal justice systems are those that uphold human rights and the rule of law in all its stages.


  1. The cases quoted above are truly heartbreaking and shouldn’t go unchecked. Much like the Willie Kimani, Josphat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri (RIP) case that is currently before the courts, these also ought to be looked into. However, a difference must be drawn between such cases and cases of armed criminals who are caught by the long arm of the law in the course of their villainy. What those thugs were doing armed in broad daylight in a busy commercial street can only be anyone’s guess. What if Kenya woke up to news that a trader had been shot dead in busy Eastleigh in broad day light? Hadn’t the same animosity be directed at cops for not protecting Kenyans? Shall we be fair and also issue pressers when police, in the course of their duty to keep us all safe, are felled by criminals?

    1. True, but the cost of extrajudicial killings outweigh the short term benefits. There is need to fix the system to ensure prompt and efficient dispensing of justice and reforming citizens. Extrajudicial killings shouldn’t be the solution to ending crime

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