Why Kenya's counter terrorism strategy is failing

MISSING:Fesysal Anyetu was arrested along Park Road on 7th September 2014 His whereabouts remain uknown
MISSING:Fesysal Anyetu was arrested along Park Road on 7th September 2014 His whereabouts remain uknown

A leaked report from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights lends credence to recent reports of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances perpetuated by security agencies.

The report concludes that Kenya’s security officers conduct counter-terrorism operations with “pernicious impunity without due regard to the rule of law”.

The report notes that tens of terror suspects, mainly ethnic Somalis and Muslims, were kidnapped and their mutilated bodies found in various parts of the country. Many victims remain missing.

The Kenya Defence Forces, the National Intelligence Service and various branches of the National Police Service, such as the anti-terror police unit, allegedly conduct the operations.

Other suspects were brutally tortured, held incommunicado without access to lawyers and family members.

“The conduct by the security agencies constitute grave violation of the Kenyan law and regional and international human rights principles and standards that protect people from arbitrary arrests and detention,” said the report.

In the last few months, at least 200 people were allegedly kidnapped and killed by the Anti-Terror Police Unit. According to relatives, some of their family members are still missing.

Unofficial records indicate that more than 100 men are missing in Mandera county, another 50 in Garissa, about 36 in Wajir and at least 20 ethnic Somalis from Nairobi’s Eastleigh.

Hussein Ali Abdullahi was arrested in Wajir on May 8. According to his brother Affey Ali, who still bears scars of brutality meted out to him by military officers, Hussein was taken into custody when he opened his shop after leading afternoon prayers at his mosque. He has not been seen since.

“No one knows where he is,”Affey said. “If someone is suspected of criminal involvement, why not take him to court?”

According to a 2013 report by the Mombasa-based Muslims for Human Rights and the Open Society Justice Initiative, security officers would rather kill suspects than take them to court.

Titled We’re tired of taking you to the court. Next time we’ll finish you off in the field, the report said state agencies have “resorted to unlawful acts” of dealing with terror, terming it counterproductive.

“They took me away, tortured me and later released me,” Affey, who was picked up by security officers who were looking for his brother, said.

He was whipped in Wajir military camp before being released.

While the government has repeatedly denied any involvement, families and lobby groups point fingers at state agents such as members of ATPU and the Rapid Response Unit of Administration Police.

In North Eastern, a group of plainclothes police officers in unmarked Land Cruisers are said to be “unleashing terror”, kidnapping, torturing and subsequently killing those in their hands.

Last year, another report by the Human Rights Watch accused the anti-terror police unit of “conducting abusive operations for years, sometimes very openly”.

“Kenyan counter-terrorism forces appear to be killing and disappearing people right under the noses of top government officials, major embassies, and the United Nations,” said Leslie Lefkow, HRW deputy Africa director.

“This horrendous conduct does not protect Kenyans from terrorism — it simply undermines the rule of law.”

More than a year later, the situation seems to remain the same.

Muslim for Human Rights Forum executive director Al-Amin Kimathi said the state has become “the investigators, the jury, executioners and the mortuary attendants of innocent Kenyans”.

“Even if someone is suspected of being a terrorist, the constitution and the laws of the land direct us on how to investigate, take them to court?” Kimathi said.

Early this month, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery appeared alarmed by the increasing number of reports of disappearance and deaths of terror suspects.

“Security organs are there to provide security to the citizens, that is their cardinal responsibility, not to make them disappear,” he said.

A relative of Khalif Mwangi, whose mutilated body was discovered in a sewage ditch in Nairobi West on May 20, 2013, aptly captured how ATPU deal with terror suspects:

“We think he was badly tortured before he was killed. His skin had been peeled off, eyes gouged out, ears burned with acid, finger nails and toes removed and the skull was broken,” the relative told the New York-based Human Rights Watch in August 2014.

Security analysts say such operations are counter-productive in the war against terrorism and violent extremism.

Torture is prohibited under Kenyan, regional and international legal and human rights regime.

It is also outlawed under the UN Convention against Torture, Inhuman, Cruel and Degrading treatment or Punishment; The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

“The ongoing crackdown continues to disproportionately target certain groups of people particularly ethnic Somalis and members of the Muslim faith in the coastal region,” KNCHR said in the recent report.

“Numerous people have been killed or disappeared after being arrested by the security agencies without due process in complete contravention of the law,” the commission said.

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