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Kenya Human Rights Group Wants Officials Tried for Torture


Kenya's state-funded human rights group has called for the prosecution of the country's defense minister and other top security officials over allegations that Kenya's military forces tortured thousands of civilians during a crackdown that began in March in the western Mount Elgon area. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from the Kenyan capital Nairobi that the commission is threatening to move the matter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if the government fails to act.

The head of Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Hassan Omar Hassan, says independent investigations by his group have largely confirmed allegations that as many as 4,000 people were tortured during a military operation in Mount Elgon to crush a local militia called the Sabaot Land Defense Force.

In a report released on Thursday, the commission cited cases of sexual violence, severe food and sleep deprivation, and victims being submerged in human waste. Other torture methods include beatings, being hung upside down from a moving helicopter, being forced to crawl over razor wire and to swallow handfuls of sand. The report says many victims were tortured without any proof that they had ties to the militia.

The autonomous human rights body now wants the attorney general's office to prosecute Kenya's defense minister, the commander of the army, the chief of police and six other top officials on charges of criminal negligence and abusing human rights.

The Sabaot Land Defense Force took up arms two years ago to protest a controversial land distribution scheme. The group has been accused of killing and raping hundreds of people in the area and committing atrocities.

Hassan says while the Kenyan government has every right to use force to stop militia members from terrorizing innocent people, there is no excuse for state security forces to behave as badly as the men they are pursuing.

"Whereas we commend part of that action in terms of rooting out the militia, there were also consequently gross abuses of human rights targeted at innocent citizens," said Hassan. "In that respect, we have seen such a massive and aggressive onslaught on the fundamental rights and freedom of the people of Kenya - to a point where the commission believes those who undertook these acts of torture must be brought to justice."

Hassan says the commission has asked the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, to recommend suspending Kenya's participation in international peacekeeping missions.

He also warns that if Kenya's attorney general fails to act, the commission will move the matter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands.

"Torture is an international crime and therefore, it was incumbent upon us to also call for accountability at the highest forum," said Hassan.

The head of the Anglican Church of Kenya in the western Eldoret diocese, Reverend Maritim Rirei, agrees that top officials should be held accountable. But he is calling for a more robust intervention from the international community.

"I think the recommendations are very important, but I don't believe the Kenyan government has any capacity to act because I believe they have had a hand in it," Rirei. "That is why some other international body should move into that area [Mount Elgon], document the abuses, and look at what has happened."

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights says it still investigating reports that security forces may have also executed hundreds of people during the Mount Elgon operation.