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KENYA: Report Charges Killing, Torture and Rape by Security Forces

Katie Mattern

WASHINGTON, Jun 29 2009 (IPS) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling for an immediate investigation of Kenyan security officials it says were sent to protect civilians in the country’s northeastern Mandera district during the move to disarm the heavily militarised region in October 2008, but who beat and tortured those civilians instead, according to the report released Monday.

The report, “’Bring the Gun or You’ll Die’: Torture, Rape, and Other Serious Human Rights Violations by Kenyan Security Forces in the Mandera Triangle,” follows abuses by the officials during and since the operation in four of the 10 targeted regions.

The report is the latest sign that tensions in Kenya remain high despite an agreement last year that ended months of post-election violence. Ethnic violence and economic woes have contributed to instability in Kenya, which was considered a stable model for Africa as recently as two years ago.

The HRW report documents abuse against men, women and children that left at least 1,200 people wounded and one dead from his injuries. Almost all of those tortured were civilians who security forces were supposed to be protecting them from local militias. It is also reported that over a dozen women were raped over the three-day operation.

HRW has said that this is “part of a broader pattern of similar abuses by security forces”.

“Instead of protecting Mandera’s residents, the military and police systematically beat and tortured them,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, in the press release on the report. “Unless the behaviour of the security forces changes, and perpetrators and especially commanders are held to account, all the government talk about police reform is meaningless.”

The operation, which began on Oct. 25, 2008, was made up of military and police officials and was meant to disarm local militias who were suspected of bringing in weapons from Ethiopia and Somalia. It lasted three days and took place in villages across Mandera East and Central and followed clashes between the local Garre and Murulle clans.

Twenty-one people were killed in the violence between the two groups and lasted from July to August.

Researchers from HRW visited the region in February 2009 and gathered accounts from 90 witnesses about the violence that occurred in five different towns. According to HRW, the witnesses said that the security officials came and rounded up all of the men in their towns early in the morning and beat and tortured them for information on weapons caches and militia locations.

“Immediately when they brought us there [a central point in the village] they started beating us,” one man was quoted in the report. “When they were finished they said, ‘Where are your guns?’ And if you still say you don’t have any, then they beat you again. Some of the personnel who were there and talked our language said to us, ‘Instead of dying here, just show us your guns.’”

The report states that security officials also searched through people’s homes for signs of firearms which led to looting of homes and local businesses.

“In several communities, these searches devolved into widespread looting, and women in two locations told Human Rights Watch that members of the security forces raped them after finding them at home while their husbands were being beaten,” HRW’s press release said.

“In many cases, the beatings were so severe and prolonged that they rose to the level of torture. Hundreds of men were made to lie on the ground for hours and were beaten with rifle butts, sticks, canes, and iron rods. Members of the security forces tortured some men by twisting, crushing, or ripping open their testicles, in several cases causing lasting harm.”

In most communities, an end to the violence came when elders begged for the officials to stop and promised that they would search for and hand over all weapons in the village. While some weapons were taken from villagers and local militias, others were purchased from Somali arms dealers with money from the community, the report said.

Hundreds of men were treated at the hospital in El Wak, a city near the border with Somalia, and other local clinics treated similar injuries of broken limbs, mutilated genitals and difficulty breathing and urinating.

“There was no warning from the government that this [kind of violence] would happen,” said one Kenyan Red Cross official in the report. “We were not on good terms with the military during that time. Our branch chair in El Wak was beaten along with everyone else, even though he was wearing a Red Cross jacket.”

Witnesses reported to HRW that there were some police and military commanders overseeing the events and sometimes even giving orders.

“This is not a question of a few bad apples disobeying orders,” Roth said. “This operation was the result of a strategy devised by senior officials to use brutal force against Kenyan citizens.”

The events in Mandera during October 2008 followed a counterinsurgency operation in Mount Elgon, a western district, which also targeted civilians. According to HRW, over 4,000 people were detained and hundreds were tortured, with over 100 men still missing.

Similar events took place in February 2009 with cattle rushers in Kuria, a district in the southwestern corner, and the Samburu region in the southeast in March 2009 that HRW also asks the government to investigate in their report.

Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, called “for the dismissal of the police commissioner and attorney general on the grounds that both officials are directly responsible for the climate of impunity that surrounds these serious abuses.”

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki announced the formation of a task force to quicken police reforms in May and agreed with the U.N. Human Rights Council that the country had a need for these reforms.

Police in Kenya have been under suspicion of torturing and killing civilians following the post-election violence in the country in December 2007 when 405 people were killed. The Waki Commission was formed to investigate police involvement in February 2008.

The violence occurred after Kibaki was elected to a second term in a highly disputed election. Kibaki was accused of electoral manipulation and fraud by supporters of his opponent, Raila Odinga. More violence broke out after police were filmed shooting protestors which lead to attacks against police.

Ethnic violence also broke out against the Kikuyu people, Kibaki’s ethnic group.

Kibaki and Odinga ended the violence when they signed a power-sharing agreement which installed Odinga as prime minister on Apr. 17, 2008.

“Human Rights Watch called on Kibaki to make it an urgent priority to carry out recommendations of the Waki Commission and the U.N. special rapporteur, and to prosecute police and military commanders responsible for serious crimes in Mandera, Mount Elgon, and elsewhere,” HRW wrote in their press release.

“Kenya needs to make absolutely clear to security forces that they will be held accountable for serious abuses,” Roth said in the release. “The right way to start is to conduct independent inquiries into these brutal operations in Mandera and elsewhere, and to remove the police commissioner and attorney general.”

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