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Army torture claims under UN spotlight

NAIROBI, June 25 – Kenyan military officers risk being banned from participating in any peacekeeping missions abroad due to allegations of torture on residents of Mount Elgon district.

This follows claims raised by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) in a report to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In a response letter to the KNCHR, the UN Human Rights chief Louise Arbour said she would raise the matter with the UN Peace Keeping Operations Department.

“Anyone suspected of or found to have been involved in torture or other serious human rights violations should be excluded from participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations,” she spelt out in a letter dated June 19.

The KNCHR report titled ‘Mountain of Terror’ said the commission had gathered sufficient evidence to show how the Kenyan military had terrorised innocent civilians while torturing them, besides other cases of extra-judicial killings.

The document also bore a request that the Kenyan Army be banned from participating in peacekeeping missions abroad.

Kenya is party to a number of international human rights treaties, including the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It is also party to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which oblige Kenya to look impartially into such serious allegations and hold perpetrators to account.

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In that regard, Arbour stated, “I would appreciate if you could share with both the department of peacekeeping operations and my office any information that you may have on any senior military, police and officials that are suspected or were found to have been involved in torture or other serious human rights abuses following the March 2008 deployment of the military to Mount Elgon.”

Soldiers were deployed to Mount Elgon to flush out militiamen from the outlawed Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), who are blamed for the killing of nearly 600 people and the displacement of over 6,000 families.

Many militiamen, including their top commander Wycliffe Matakwei, have since been gunned down and firearms recovered from them.

Others have either surrendered or been arrested during the operation, a number of whom have already appeared in court faced with murder and other related charges.

While the military chief General Jeremiah Kianga denies the torture claims, human rights lobby groups have maintained on several occasions that soldiers were indeed involved in torture and extra-judicial killings.

“Our military is professional. Those linking us to such claims do not know what they are saying. They should go and interview residents there (Mount Elgon) because they are happy with our work,” he said in a recent interview at the Military Headquarters in Nairobi.

When the KNCHR released the report, which is now a subject of investigations by the UN, General Kianga dismissed it as ‘mere allegations aimed at discrediting the work of our soldiers.’

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