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Kenyan Security Forces Face US Funding Ban

Kenya Defense Forces soldiers service helicopter near Kenya-Somalia border, Feb. 20, 2012 (file photo).
NAIROBI - Kenyan military and police are at risk of losing United States government funding. A bill in the U.S. Senate Foreign Appropriations Committee says Kenya's history of human rights abuse is alarming and must be addressed.

After hearing allegations of human rights abuses by Kenyan soldiers, U.S. lawmakers are seeking to end funding for the East African country's military and police, and also have asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ensure that no training, equipment or any other assistance is provided for Kenyan defense forces and police who are alleged to have violated human rights.

The committee's proposal follows a May 4 report from Human Rights Watch, "Criminal Reprisals: Kenyan Police and Military Abuses against Ethnic Somalis," which says government troops joined guerrilla forces in Mt. Elgon committing murder, torture and rape in 2008. It is estimated that around 750 people were killed and hundreds of others are still missing.

The bill also cites multiple violations between November 2011 to January 2012 in the northeastern province towns of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera, and inside the Dadaab refugee camps.

HRW's East Africa researcher Neela Ghoshal hopes Senate action will be a turning point for the Kenyan military.

"Despite the fact that, for months, we've been bringing these abuses to the attention of the Kenyan security forces and local organizations ... the reaction has essentially been to do nothing," she says. "We're hoping that perhaps the indication that the U.S. Senate is looking at the funding is going to motivate the Kenyan authorities to act, to investigate what has happened and to hold accountable the particular military and police officers who are responsible."

Kenyan military officials will not comment on the actual bill, but Colonel Cyrus Oguna, spokesperson for the Kenyan Defense Forces, calls Nairobi's relationship with Washington cordial, historical and important.

The committee is now asking Secretary Clinton to submit a report on any steps taken by the Kenyan government to conduct thorough, credible investigations of the human rights violations to identify any military units involved.

The bill, which sets the United States' budget for next year's foreign military funding and assistance, needs to pass through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives later this year before any actions can be taken.