Amnesty International has issued a scathing report, accusing authorities in Kenya of committing human rights violations against terror suspects they have arrested in recent years. It is the human rights group's first such accusation against a sub-Saharan African ally of the United States in the fight against terror.
The London-based Amnesty International says its report on Kenya is based on a two-and-a-half-year study of counter-terrorism-related activities, and interviews with dozens of former terror suspects and their families.
A researcher for Amnesty in Nairobi, Sheila Keetharuth, says the group has ample evidence that Kenyan authorities routinely failed to respect international human rights laws, as well as Kenyan laws, in their treatment of detainees.
"This failure to respect the rule of law can be substantiated through reports of incommunicado detentions, detentions without charge, torture, cruel or degrading treatment, harassment of family members and relatives of those suspected of terrorism," she said. "There was a disturbing level of secrecy surrounding arrests and detentions. A lot of the arrests can be termed as arbitrary, unlawful. No search warrants were produced when requested."
Ms. Keetharuth says anti-terrorism operations in the capital, Nairobi, appear to have been unreasonably concentrated in the city's Eastleigh area, home to thousands of Somali refugees. Amnesty also found that a significant number of arrests were made in Mombasa and other coastal towns with large Muslim populations.
The group says while it recognizes that Kenyan security forces may have been acting on reliable intelligence, the sheer number of people taken in for questioning and held without charge has led many people to believe that arrests are sometimes based solely on religious or ethnic makeup.
Amnesty International's report also includes allegations that security agents from other countries frequently worked alongside Kenyans in interrogating suspects. The report does not say where the agents came from. But Ms. Keetharuth says several detainees have alleged that the agents sometimes questioned suspects alone and used intimidation tactics against them.
"Our contention here is that there were no proper safeguards for their rights in the sense that they were not represented by counsel," she said. "If the language they spoke was not the same, they did not have the presence of an interpreter."
Kenya is a close East African ally of the United States in the war on terror. But, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi deny that American agents are involved in the interrogation of suspects.
A spokesman for the Kenyan government, Alfred Mutua, says he acknowledges that some Kenyan security force members may have violated rules for dealing with detainees. But he says the government does not apologize for its policy of aggressively pursuing terrorism suspects.
"The continuing murder and some of those things cannot be excused," he said. "As a result of being overzealous, this government has been able to actually stop terrorism acts before they have occurred. And we may have been able to stop the suffering of many more Kenyans that could have suffered had the government taken a lackluster attitude toward fighting terrorism."
Kenya has been the site of two major terrorist attacks in the past seven years. In August, 1998, al-Qaida took responsibility for the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people, most of them Kenyans. Four years later, a suicide car bombing at an Israeli-owned hotel near Mombasa killed more than a dozen Kenyans and wounded 80 others.