News / Africa

Kenyan Police Accused of Torture, Arbitrary Arrests

Somali families move out of their homes after they were broken into during the second day of skirmishes in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Kenya's capital Nairobi, Nov. 19, 2012.
Somali families move out of their homes after they were broken into during the second day of skirmishes in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Kenya's capital Nairobi, Nov. 19, 2012.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Kenyan police officers have subjected more than 1,000 ethnic Somalis to torture, rape and arbitrary arrests.  The alleged abuses were in apparent response to grenade attacks in a predominantly Somali part of Nairobi, carried out by militants with suspected links to the Somali militant group al-Shabab. 

Human Rights Watch says Kenyan police carried out 70 days of what the group calls "terror" in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighborhood.

The alleged abuses took place between November and January, a little more than a year after Kenyan troops entered Somalia to battle al-Shabab.

Human Rights Watch says that in addition to the alleged abuses, Kenyan authorities forcibly relocated a number of Somali refugees to camps in northeastern Kenya.

Speaking to journalists in Nairobi Tuesday, Human Rights Watch Senior Refugee Researcher Gerry Simpson accused the Kenyan police of calling their victims "terrorists" and extorting money from them.

"Every single person we interviewed told us police branded them terrorists and so it seems that at least one of the main reasons for these abuses is that the police took upon themselves to punish men, women and children for attacks by unknown people that had taken place in Kenya since October 2011,” he said.

Kenyan forces went into Somalia in October 2011 to secure the border following a series of attacks and kidnappings in Kenyan territory blamed on al-Shabab.  Al-Shabab vowed to attack inside Kenya in response to the Kenyan incursion. 

Kenyan police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi said there will always be complaints against police and the way they execute their work. 

Mwinyi said some police officers may have overstepped regulations when dealing with security matters.

“We also acknowledge once in a while we might have some incidents of some officers getting excited or going out of their mandate,” he said.

The rights group interviewed 101 people.  Ninety-six were refugees with documentation and the rest were Kenyan citizens who were ethnic Somalis.

HRW's Gerry Simpson said that what strikes his organization was that no one stopped the attacks against the residents by police.

“So at the very best, senior police commanders simply allowed this to happen and turned a blind eye and at the very worst they actually encouraged their officers to commit these abuses,” he said.

Human Rights Watch has called on the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, to document and report any abuses against refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya.

The government of Kenya has repeatedly promised to investigate accusations leveled against its security forces.  But according to Human Rights Watch, so far no serious action has been taken by the government.

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