NAIROBI, August 27 – The Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) released yet another report on Wednesday, detailing the extent of torture and human rights abuses meted out on innocent civilians during the ongoing security operation in Mount Elgon.
The joint military and police operation aims to flush out members of the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF), which has been accused of killing and maiming hundreds of people in the region.
In the latest report issued on Wednesday, IMLU said it had documented evidence on the violations of human rights by the army and the police who have previously denied any violations.
“There is credible evidence that 278 survivors from the Mt Elgon operation covered by this report were systematically tortured and/or subjected to cruel inhuman degrading treatment or punishment by security officers and/or the criminal militia,” IMLU’s Executive Director Sam Mohochi said.
He said the state had failed in its obligations under the Convention against Torture, which is contrary to Articles 2,4,12, 14and 16.
“The systematic nature of torture and accompanying magnitude targeting a specific communal group amounts to a crime against humanity as enshrined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which Kenya has signed and ratified,” he said and added that all persons arrested for screening and interrogations had been subjected to torture.
IMLU has vowed to take up the issue at international forums on torture conventions to ensure action is taken against the law enforcers.
“The IMLU reports will be shared with the office of the Special Rapporteur on Torture. All the reports will form a basis of the alternative report being compiled by IMLU and its partners to be submitted to the Committee against Torture,” he said.
The security operation in Mt Elgon was launched after the rag-tag militia rounded up civilians, whipped them, chopped off their ears and arms as well as tied some upside down on trees during an 18-month campaign of terror.
The SLDF took up arms in 2006 to resist a government resettlement scheme in the Mount Elgon district near the Ugandan border which displaced the Sabaot tribe from their ancestral lands.
Kenyan security forces launched a crackdown in the area in March, but have faced criticism for rights abuses against the local population.
According to IMLU, 20 percent of its respondents in the report entitled "Double Tragedy" said police and army officers pulled their genitals, threw them into a muddy river and made them bite the backs of each others’ necks until they bled.
"This was besides being whipped, slapped, kicked and made to sing ‘Jeshi la Kenya ni moja’ (Swahili for Kenya has only one army)," it added.
In April, IMLU and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the SLDF and security forces of torturing civilians, while in May the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) called for the prosecution of the Defence Minister and eight top security officials over the torture claims.
The New York-based HRW said the government must account for dozens of people missing since the security crackdown.
Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti has on numerous occasions denied the allegations and accused the lobby groups of filing reports to seek publicity and funding.
A government investigation conducted by the police recently accused the lobby groups of interviewing ‘non-existent’ residents to justify their claims.
The latest report released by IMLU recommends that the Attorney General exercises his constitutional powers to initiate an investigation leading to prosecution of all perpetrators of torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment in Mount Elgon.
It also demands the immediate compliance with the requirements of the law by institution of public inquests in all cases where human remains have been found.
“IMLU recommends to the Kenyan Parliament to come up with a legal framework that eliminates secrecy and lack of accountability in future initiatives by joint security agencies while preserving law and order,” Mohochi said.