Human Rights Watch calls for Mt Elgon probe

July 28, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, July 28 – An international human rights organisation has echoed calls for the Kenyan government to launch an independent probe into alleged atrocities committed by the military and the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) in the Mt Elgon region.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Consultant Ben Rawlence said Monday that the government must also account for dozens of people detained by the military, and several of them who are now said to have gone missing.

Rawlence expressed: “What we saw in March and April was a strategy of arbitrary arrests, torture, disappearances and killings. Such a strategy is very concerning; the allegations need to be investigated and people brought to book so that the security forces learn that this is not an acceptable way of dealing with an insurgency.”

In a 52-page report called "All the Men Have Gone", HRW termed the extent of the torture in Mt Elgon as "truly shocking" and accused both Kenya’s security forces and the SLDF of torture, rape and murder.

"Since 2006 the SLDF has attacked thousands of civilians; killing, raping, and mutilating, in a complex mix of land disputes, criminality, and struggles for local power," it said.

Rawlence added; “The people are happy that the SLDF is being combated but they were traumatised for years and now again they have been traumatised by the operation. They also fear retribution by the militia.”

He further intimated that the Red Cross should be given access to the operation site so that they can monitor the situation, in an area where a food and health crisis is threatening to escalate.

International health organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) last week complained that security officers had denied them access to the area.

SLDF launched attacks in 2006 to oppose the redistribution of land by the government in that area. More than 600 people are reported to have died under the hands of the militia and 60,000 more displaced.

A government offensive that began in March to counter SLDF’s operations has however been accused of killing at least 62 more people, while about 42 others cannot be traced, according to humanitarian agencies.

“We have a list of people arrested by the military, but to date – according to their next of kin – they have never been found,” said Job Bwonya of HRW’s Western Kenya branch.

The joint army-police ‘Okoa Maisha’ operation has netted at least 800 suspects, though 600 of these have since been released. Key figures of the SLDF, including its leader Wycliffe Matakwei, have also been killed.

Though security authorities have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the operation, the government has launched its own inquiry into the claims but the report is yet to be made public.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) has been at the forefront of pushing for independent investigations and has gone ahead to petition the United Nations (UN) human rights arm to bar military officials implicated in torture from participating in foreign peace-keeping missions.

Vice Chairman of the State-run human rights watchdog, Hassan Omar, said Monday that those suspected to be behind any violations would have to defend themselves before the UN body.

“We have been in touch with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and we are in the process of finalising our list for transmission to the UN. And then we will be hoping to find our way into the Human Rights Council meeting in November to shed more light,”  Omar expressed.


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