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The error of fighting terror with terror

Human Rights
Members of the Kenyan Defense Forces

The Kenyan Defense Forces have been heavily criticized by a recent report investigating human rights violations. AMISOM Public Information under a Creative Commons Licence

A Kenyan government agency has released a report documenting grave human rights violations by government security forces against individuals and groups whom they suspect to be associated with terrorism.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) says preliminary evidence suggests that more than 100 people have been ‘disappeared’, several killed and scores of others tortured in an ongoing operation by government security agencies.

The report finds that counterterrorism operations are being conducted by a combined contingent of Kenya Defense Forces, the National Intelligence Service, and other units of the security sector.

‘This report documents over 120 cases of egregious human rights violations that include 25 extrajudicial killings and 81 enforced disappearances,’ says George Morara, vice-chair of the KNCHR.

The report reveals that the violations are widespread, systematic and well co-ordinated, including arbitrary arrests, extortion, illegal detention, torture, killings and disappearances.

The KNCHR is a body mandated to monitor, investigate and report on human rights in the country, and to take steps to seek redress where human rights have been violated.

The commission’s investigation reveals that torture methods used by the violators include beatings, water-boarding, electric shocks, genital mutilation, exposure to extreme cold or heat, hanging on trees, mock executions, exposure to stinging by ants in the wild, and denial of sleep and food.

The commission is concerned that the security force’s ongoing crackdown targets ethnic Somalis and members of the Muslim faith, which may actually be counter-productive to government efforts to combat terrorism.

‘This profiling of people along ethnic or religious lines constitute[s] discrimination and is therefore unconstitutional and against international norms,’ the report, ‘The Error of Fighting Terror with Terror’, says.

In the recent past, Muslim leaders have condemned security agencies for targeting Muslims in the ‘war against terrorism’. They have accused security agents of being complicit in the disappearance and death of members of the Muslim community.

The commission is now demanding that the president acknowledge and condemn the abuses by security agencies and ensure respect for the rule of law and human rights in the fight against terrorism.

Further, the report says that the president should issue an official public apology to the survivors and families of victims of the abuses. Families of those who have disappeared have received no assistance from the government and they continue to agonize as they desperately search for their kin, the report explains.

The commission recommends that the government desist from criminalizing legitimate human rights and civil-society work unless there is evidence of misconduct and a breach of the law.

Last month, the chair of Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), Khelef Khalifah, spoke of the difficulties faced by the organization in its quest to address the violations of human rights among Muslims.

‘We have been frustrated by the government while conducting our duties as a rights group. Security officers have also been frustrating our efforts in the name of fighting terror,’ he explained.

The Muslim organization expressed concern that the number of disappeared people has sharply increased, from 15 in 2013 to more than 30 people in 2015. These disappearances occurred along the Kenyan coast, which is predominantly Muslim.

Together with another rights lobby group Haki Africa, MUHURI had its activities shut down by the government for allegedly having links with terrorist organizations, accusations which they have vehemently denied.

During his July visit to Kenya, US President Barack Obama urged the Kenyan government to collaborate with Muslims in its campaign against violent extremism. The KNCHR report echoed Obama’s suggestion.

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