Police act on rape claims by refugees

January 18, 2011 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 – A police report on human rights abuses against refugees at the Dadaab camp is calling for thorough investigations on all reported cases to ensure the immigrants are treated humanely.

An executive summary of the report compiled by the Complaints Department at Police headquarters said there were widespread violations of Somali refugees living in camps, mainly women and under-age girls who are most vulnerable.

The report, however, exonerates police officers from blame for such offences like rape but indicts them for cohabiting with women refugees-most of who are left stranded at the camps whenever the officers are transferred.

The complaints team headed by Grace Kaindi, was dispatched to the ground towards the end of last year by Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere after Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) filed reports of blatant violations on Somali refugees.

"The team established that there are several cases of rape reported to Dadaab police station and all are under investigation; there are also others which are pending in court. There is need for thorough investigations on each reported case," part of the report seen by Capital News states.

Since the beginning of the year, the report says, 12 cases of rape and other sexual related offences have been reported and were all under investigation. Twenty three cases were reported in the last quarter of last year.

Of these, some [cases] have been disposed off for lack of evidence or are under investigation while others are pending in court, the police report said.

Of concern to the team of officers that visited Dadaab refugee camp and the police station that serves the area were numerous complaints of police officers cohabiting with Somali refugee women at the camp.

"We observed that such refugee women end up suffering once the police officers they cohabit with are transferred to serve in other stations," part of the report said and urged authorities to discourage officers from cohabiting or having sexual relations with refugees.

The report recommends tougher administrative actions for those found engaging in such behaviour.

It did not specify the number of officers cohabiting with Somali women refugees but it is categorical that such scenarios are rampant in Dadaab.

Although the report states that there were several cases of rape allegations levelled against police officers, there was no sufficient evidence to support the claims, hence the need for thorough investigations not only on the police but also to other cases.

The investigators said they were also perturbed by the high number of commercial sex workers in the camps.

"There even exist brothels in Dadaab refugee camp," the report states but no immediate solution is given.

The officers who were on a fact-finding mission observed that sometimes it is difficult to ascertain if rape has been committed because some of these incidents are reported at the brothels.

Police Spokesman Erick Kiraithe said senior police officers were yet to discuss the report that was compiled in the first week of January 2011.

"The report is here with us, it will be discussed before any action is taken," he said without elaborating.

Up to 300 cases of sexual and gender-based violence are reported to the police in Dadaab refugee camp alone every year.

In 2009, 267 such cases were reported to the police and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Amnesty International says this statistic includes 107 reports of sexual violence, including incidents of rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, sodomy, and defilement, and 160 reports of other gender-based crimes, including domestic violence in the form of physical, economic, or psychological abuse, female genital mutilation, and early marriages.

Amnesty International and UNHCR have documented several reports of such and many other violations and even interviewed survivors.

In its December 2010 report titled Somali refugees need protection not abuse, Amnesty International says that "Kenya\’s violations of the human rights of Somali refugees and asylum-seekers are putting thousands of lives at risk."

The report sums up the challenges facing the Somali refugees as "From life without peace to peace without life."

It describes how thousands fleeing violence in Somalia are unable to find refuge, protection and lasting solutions in Kenya, due to the closure of the border between the two countries almost four years ago amid security concerns.

"Continued fighting and horrendous abuses in Somalia pose a very real threat to the lives of tens of thousands of children, women and men. No Somali should be forcibly returned to southern and central Somalia," said Michelle Kagari, Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

Kenya closed its 682-kilometre border with Somalia in December 2006, fearing an escalation of violence and attacks by fighters loyal to Osama Bin Laden\’s al-Qaeda terror network.

"The situation in the Dadaab camps has reached crisis point," the Amnesty International (AI) report says.

"Somali refugees find themselves stuck between a war zone and what many describe as an open prison, since Kenya does not allow them to leave the camps without special permission. Refugees who have made their way to Kenya\’s cities live precariously and remain vulnerable to police abuse."

According to AI, Kenya disproportionately shoulders the responsibility for massive refugee flows from Somalia and needs more support from the international community, including the European Union countries to provide durable solutions for the refugees.

A Human Rights Watch report of June 2010 documents numerous grave abuses perpetrated to refugees at the camps and failure by the police to protect them or adequately respond to challenges they face.

"Nearly two decades into their existence, the camps remain a place where justice for rape victims is the exception and impunity for perpetrators the rule," Meghan Rhoad, a researcher with HRW\’s Women\’s Rights Division, who wrote the section of the report on sexual violence said.

She concludes that, "The refugee women and girls who bravely come forward and report sexual violence to the police deserve better."
Mr Kiraithe said the investigation on human rights violations was launched after the reports by the HRW and Amnesty international.

"We studied the reports and realised the need to commence a thorough investigation. The team that went to the field has documented their report and we will have to implement their recommendations," he added.

(Follow the author at https://twitter.com/momanyibernard)


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