A rights group says the ongoing security operation in Kenya is riddled with abuses, resulting in arbitrary detentions, harassment and forced relocations. The government crackdown began in early April following attacks by unknown gunmen in Mombasa and Nairobi.
Operation Usalama Watch was launched after gunmen killed 12 people in two attacks in March. Much of the security crackdown is centered on Nairobi’s Eastleigh and South C neighborhoods and the Likoni area of Mombasa.
Human Rights Watch researcher Laetitia Bader said that’s where you’ll find thousands of Somalis, ethnic Somali Kenyans, South Sudanese and Kenyan Muslims.
“We are concerned with how the operation is being carried out, both in terms of ongoing abusive, arbitrary arrests. So, in terms of the security forces going to peoples’ homes, raiding homes, houses, buildings,” she said.
The group is also critical of conditions at places where detainees are being held.
She said, “We’ve been visiting different police stations in Nairobi where detainees have been held in horrifying conditions: overcrowded, lack of sanitary facilities, lack of food and water, but also in terms of the legality of the detentions. Individuals have been held for much longer than what is stipulated under Kenyan law and it’s very unclear why they are being held.”
It’s also not clear how many people are being detained.
“Well, that’s a very good question,” she said, “The problem is at the moment no one and no protection actors actually have access to all the detention facilities where people are being held. So, we’ve heard from the Kenyan authorities numbers up to thousands of people being detained. But key actors haven’t been given access to the detention facilities to really clarify and corroborate this information.”
She said that journalists, Kenyan citizens and international aid workers have also been harassed. Human Rights Watch also accused security forces of taking cellphones, money and other items, including documentation.
“The authorities are claiming that what they are trying to do is identify undocumented individuals in this country. But the truth is that in the way the operation is being carried out they are often overlooking valid documentation. They’ve been destroying refugee cards, identification cards,” Bader said.
Kenya, she said, has the right to carry out security operations in the wake of attacks. However, she says authorities have not yet brought individuals to court for the attacks in Mombasa and Nairobi.
Human Rights Watch made a number of recommendations, including giving access to U.N. officials.
“At a minimum, the U.N. refugee organization, UNHCR, is given access to all detention facilities where individuals are being held to make sure that refugees are identified, but also individuals who haven’t had the option and the possibility to claim asylum in Kenya given that registration of asylum seekers has stopped over the last few years it’s absolutely critical that UNHCR has access to all detainees,” said Bader.
The group also called on Kenyan authorities to make sure its security operation meets human rights standards.
Last month, authorities said Operation Usalama Watch had progressed well and was intensified…arresting criminals, suspected terrorists and illegal aliens.” More than 200 people have been scheduled to be deported or sent back to the Dadaab refugee camps in northeast Kenya. At the time, authorities said they were waiting to see official reports of police misconduct.