News / Africa

HRW: Kenyan Police Abusing Ethnic Somalis

— Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Kenyan security officers have subjected dozens of ethnic Somalis to beatings and other abuses.  The alleged abuses were in apparent response to grenade and gun attacks carried out by militants with suspected links to the Somali armed group al-Shabab, against police in northeastern Kenya.

Kenyan security forces have come under attack inside the country, particularly in the north, by suspected al-Shabab sympathizers in that region.

The Human Rights Watch investigation, published Thursday, shows that on three occasions in the month of September and October police officers attacked people in the town of Garissa and Mandera after their forces had come under grenade attack.

Otsieno Namwaya, Kenya researcher with Human Rights Watch, said that Kenyan police, without investigation, carry out indiscriminate beatings and sometimes even shoot people.
 
Namwaya notes most of the reprisals last for two hours and dozens of people are nursing serious injuries for crimes they didn't know anything about.

"It all boils down to basic such as respect for the rule of law and respecting people's rights, and basically following due process, because how do you beat people before you even investigate to determine where the sources of grenade attack was," said Namwaya.  "Even after those beatings they don't bother to follow it up further and determine whether there was any justification at all the matter ends there."

Kenya has witnessed a series of grenade attacks since the Kenya Defense Forces entered Somalia a year ago to join the battle against al-Shabab.

In its previous statements the rights group said the attacks carried out by suspected al-Shabab sympathizers against security forces and civilians were abhorrent.

But Namwaya stressed the Kenyan security officers shouldn't assume that every villager in the area of the crime scene is guilty.
 
Namwaya says police need to do a systematic investigation, establish who the culprit is and follow due process. But, Namwaya says what is happening now is the opposite and attacking people has become the officers' main tactic.

"From our investigation it looks like a clear pattern which looks like a government policy," Namwaya added.  "We want the government to clearly state to whether this is a policy they have issued directly to their officers to be doing this because it's happening in nearly every town in northern Kenya -  Mandera, Garissa and any other place grenade attack occurs people basically get beaten indiscriminately."

Eric Kiraithe is the spokesman for Kenyan police.  He denies all the allegations leveled against the force's officers.

"Police officers do not operate with opinions, with what they think," said Kiraithe.  "We operate strictly on evidence used, the veracity of that evidence and credibility of the witnesses, and therefore we don't need to think. Generally our officers, all our officers are trained on regular basis to respect human rights and follow the law."

The government of Kenya has repeatedly promised to investigate accusations leveled against its security forces.  According to Human Rights Watch so far no serious action has been taken and HRW says police continue to operate outside the law.

In a 65-page report released last May, the organization accused the security officers of committing widespread abuses between November 2011 and March 2012.

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