Report: Kenyan forces abused ethnic Somalis near border

Human Rights Watch report says that Kenyan forces, now fighting insurgents across the border in Somalia, has beaten, humiliated, and raped ethnic Somalis along Kenyan border.

Khalil Senosi/AP
Kenya's Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere, speaks to journalists in Nairobi, Kenya, Friday, May 4, about accusations of abuse including sexual assault, arbitrary detention, extortion, destruction of property, and various forms of physical mistreatment by Kenya's security forces.

Months after Kenyan troops rolled into Somalia to prop up the shaky government there and to pursue Al Shabab, the al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants, an international human-rights group has accused Kenyan forces of abusing Somalis in North Eastern province.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today that it was calling for an investigation into the atrocities which it says occurred after Kenya sent its troops into the war-torn country October 2011. Kenya had accused the Somali militant group Al Shabab of kidnapping Kenyan nationals, foreign aid workers and tourists in the months leading up to the Kenyan military's operation known as Operation Linda Nchi (Operation Protect Country). Kenya launched this operation on Oct. 16, 2011.

With the operation ongoing, suspected sympathizers of the militants have responded by carrying out a series of grenade, explosive and some gun attacks on security forces and civilians in the northern towns of Garissa, Mandera, Wajir and the Dadaab Refugee Camp. Some grenade attacks have also occurred in Nairobi, which security agencies consider to be the work of Al Shabab.

In its report, “Criminal Reprisals: Kenya Police and Military against Ethnic Somalis,” Human Rights Watch says that the Police and the army had committed the widespread human rights violations against members of the country's Somali ethnic minority while responding to the attacks. Many people were seriously beaten and left with broken bones. Others were raped by the police, according to HRW officials.

“Our primary concern is despite the series of attacks, so far there has been no accountability. The police and military have not identified the officers who are responsible. They have not been held accountable,” said Neela Ghosal, the Nairobi-based Human Rights Watch researcher at the launch of the report in Nairobi on May 4.

The 65 page reports is based on interviews of 55 victims of abuses, including Somali refugees in the Dadaab Refugee Camp, and 35 citizens in the northern Kenyan towns of Garissa, Wajir, and Madera. The abuses were committed in between November 2011 and March 2012, according to HRW.

The organization said the most serious abuses were carried out by the police in Dadaab Camp, the home of nearly 600,000 Somali refugees who are fleeing drought and war. Police went house to house, beating and looting, and raping at least one woman, the report said.

“What has happened is an arbitrary round-up of the residents who have been mistreated in the aftermath of these attacks… These are activities that have nothing to do with policing, but seemed sort of designed as form of collective punishment,” Ms. Ghosal said.

Some of the police tactics seem to be aimed at humiliating the local population, by rounding up civilians and forcing them to roll in the mud or to sit in the water.

Derow Abdi Salat, a survivor of the abuses, recounted how he and other Kenyan Somalis were rounded up from their homes and made to lie on their stomachs on a road. The soldiers later forced them to stare at the blazing midday sun.

Mr. Salat claims that beatings by Kenyan soldiers caused permanent damage to his genitals. "My marriage is now strained,” he said at the press conference. “I appeal to the government to consider compensating those who were affected,”

Early this year, HRW documented abuses by Ethiopian forces and militias affiliated to the Transitional Federal Government inside Somalia. The organization said the two had executed and detained suspected al-Shabab sympathizers.

“We are concerned there could be similar atrocities committed by the Kenyan soldiers and Ethiopian forces,” said Ben Rawlence, senior researcher, Human Rights Watch.

Part of the problem in understanding what is happening in Somalia by Kenyan forces is the restriction the forces are placing on the press, said Mr. Rawlance.

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