, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 12 – Kenyan security forces are on the spotlight once again after the Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused them of widespread abuses on civilians in the northeastern province.
The latest report by the HRW released on Thursday said police and military were beating and arbitrarily detaining citizens and Somali refugees in the province.
“These abuses have continued despite repeated pledges to stop,” the HRW report says adding it had documented numerous abuses by the military since October 2011.
It cites an incident on Wednesday, January 11, where several residents were allegedly rounded up in an open field within the enclosure of the local military camp.
“When military officers can beat civilians in broad daylight without fearing repercussions, it’s clear that impunity has become the norm,” HRW’s Africa director Daniel Bekele said.
“Repeated promises by both the police and the military to stop these abuses and investigate have amounted to nothing,” he adds.
When contacted, Military Spokesman Maj Emmanuel Chirchir said he had not seen the report.
“I have not seen the report, I will be in a good position to comment about it if I saw it. But I can tell you what you are saying is not true,” he said and requested us to send the report to him.
Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe did not respond to our queries for his comment on the HRW report.
HRW said the arbitrary abuses had increased since the Kenyan Defence Forces entered southern Somalia in October in pursuit of the Al Shabaab militia.
The report said most abuses usually occurred soon after explosive attacks on civilian and security forces’ targets.
On November 24, 2011 for instance following two grenade attacks on civilian targets in Garissa and an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a military convoy in Mandera, the report says, police and soldiers rounded up hundreds of suspects in both towns. Some were beaten so severely that they suffered broken limbs.
It said explosions in the town of Wajir in early December were also followed by arbitrary arrests and beatings.
“They criminalise all Somali people,” he said. “Whenever a crime is committed, detaining and torturing people doesn’t seem like a good security strategy. It is creating a barrier between the people and the security forces,” the report said.
Apart from arbitrary arrests and torture, HRW also accuses the police of rape.
“The incident in Garissa on January 11 involved Kenyan citizens who told Human Rights Watch that they had been arbitrarily detained by the military,” the reports states.
One of them, Ali Ibrahim Hilole, was at a shop across the military camp buying items for a hospitalised relative when a military officer said to him: “Why are you standing here? So you’re al-Shabaab.”
He told HRW that soldiers forced him to accompany them to the camp, where they kicked him and told him to roll around on the ground.
Another victim Yusuf Khalif Mohamed, a long distance truck driver told HRW that he stopped in Garissa for a soft drink on his way from Mombasa to Dadaab, where he was to make a food delivery for UNICEF when he was abused by the security forces.
“He parked his truck near the military camp, not knowing that parking was prohibited there. A military officer forced him to come to the camp, where soldiers threw a 20-liter container of water on him, forced him to roll on the ground, kicked him on the side, and hit him on the head with the butt of a gun,” the report says.
“I think you are al-Shabaab. You are bothering us in Somalia, and now you’ve come to bother us here,” the report states, quoting the victim.
Both men, along with at least five to seven others who were similarly detained and mistreated – most of them truck drivers, and all of them Kenyan citizens – were released after 30 minutes.
“They were not interrogated or charged with any crime,” it states.
HRW said it had spoken to the military spokesman Maj Chirchir who denied knowledge of any abuses on civilians.
“Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, said by phone from Nairobi that the people held at the military camp were being questioned because they had tried to build an illegal structure to sell things outside the camp. Chirchir said he did not have knowledge of any abuses,” the report said.
It said the military had pledged to probe the matter.
“Kenya’s security forces are rightly concerned about attacks by suspected al-Shabaab members, and should be doing more, not less, to identify the attackers,” Bekele said. “But beating, raping, and humiliating innocent Kenyan citizens and Somali refugees accomplishes nothing. Those in the security forces who are responsible for these abuses should be investigated and prosecuted.”
It is not the first time the Kenya military and police are being accused of abusing citizen in their course of work.
When the military was deployed to engage the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF) militia group in Mount Elgon in 2008, they were accused of torture and arbitrary arrests of civilians.
The Kenya police have also had its fair share of blame on abuses against civilians while fighting the outlawed Mungiki gang and other rag tag outfits.