Maash Hussein Abikar shows scars left by Kenyan soldiers when he was beaten with a gun butt during a round-‐up of ethnic Somalis in Wajir in December 2011. He also lost two teeth and now has blurry vision in one eye as a result of the beating. © 2012 Human Rights Watch
Nairobi - The Kenyan security forces have committed widespread human rights abuses against ethnic Somalis with total impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Between November 2011 and March 2012, Kenyan police and soldiers arbitrarily arrested and mistreated Kenyan citizens and Somali refugees in North Eastern province in response to attacks by militants suspected of links to Somalia’s Islamist armed movement al-Shabaab.
The 65-page report, “Criminal Reprisals: Kenyan Police and Military Abuses against Ethnic Somalis,” provides detailed documentation of human rights abuses by the Kenya Defence Forces and the Kenyan police in apparent response to a series of grenade and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks that targeted both the security forces and civilians in North Eastern province. Rather than conducting investigations to identify and apprehend the perpetrators, both the police and army responded with violent reprisals against Kenyan citizens and Somali refugees.
“The attacks carried out by suspected al-Shabaab supporters are abhorrent, but they can never justify this kind of indiscriminate abuse,” said Leslie Lefkow
, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Kenyan police and soldiers ought to be protecting civilians, not assaulting them.”
The abuses by members of the security forces that Human Rights Watch documented included rape and attempted sexual assault, beatings, arbitrary detention, extortion, looting and destruction of property, and various forms of physical mistreatment. Human Rights Watch also found cases of degrading and inhumane treatment, such as forcing victims to sit in water or roll on the ground. The government has promised to investigate the abuses, but no police or soldiers have been charged, disciplined, or otherwise held accountable.
The report is based on interviews with 55 victims of abuses by the security forces, including 20 Somali refugees in the Dadaab refugee camps and 35 Kenyan citizens, the majority of them ethnic Somalis, in the towns of Garissa, Mandera, and Wajir. Human Rights Watch also interviewed police and military officials, local administrative officials, members of parliament, representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and civil society activists in North Eastern province.
In Garissa, abuses by the Kenya Defence Forces began after several grenade attacks in November, Human Rights Watch found. In late November soldiers targeted specific households, entering compounds and beating people they found inside, including a 16-year-old schoolboy whose arm was fractured in an assault by soldiers.
Between November and January, officers at Garissa military camp rounded up several dozen civilians, including drivers who parked their vehicles near the camp, and abused them, accusing them of being “al-Shabaab.” Victims were forced to sit in dirty water while being interrogated, roll in a field at the military camp, and do other humiliating “exercises,” such as frog-jumping across the field and spinning in circles with one finger on the ground. Many were beaten before being released. None were charged with a crime.
A 17-year-old watchman who was beaten by Kenyan soldiers in Garissa told Human Rights Watch, “They didn’t ask us any questions, they just started beating us. They didn’t even ask our names. They made us lie down and roll. We rolled for about half an hour here in the road. After the ‘exercises’, they left, then came back and started beating us more. They beat us with fists and kicked us with their boots. I was beaten on my whole body. There was no place they missed.”
In Mandera and Wajir, soldiers assaulted civilians in the immediate aftermath of explosive attacks in November and December. Local leaders found that in November, Kenyan soldiers, joined by Kenyan police and soldiers from Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, beat at least 115 people in Mandera, which is one kilometer from the Somali border. In December, Kenyan soldiers arbitrarily rounded up and ill-treated approximately 56 people in Wajir, beating some, and forcing all to roll on a gravel road in the hot sun.
The soldiers inflicted permanent physical harm on some civilians, including an epileptic grandmother who is now bedridden as a result of the assault and a laborer who can no longer work to provide for his family after being beaten so badly with a gun butt that he lost two teeth and partial vision in one eye.
The most serious abuses were carried out by police in the Dadaab camps, which house over 460,000 refugees, most of them Somali. After several explosive attacks that resulted in the death of two Administration Police officers, police carried out an organized, retaliatory raid on refugees. They went from house to house, raped at least one woman and attempted to sexually assault others, beat children as young as four years old, and looted millions of shillings (hundreds of thousands of dollars) worth of money and property. Police told at least two refugees, while beating them, to “go back to Somalia.”
One woman who was raped by police in Dadaab told Human Rights Watch: