The world seems to have forgotten that international humanitarian law applies to everyone - even suspected terrorists.
by Rosa Davis
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Bashir Ahmed Makhtal's family fled to Canada (via Somalia) in the 1970s in order to avoid the continuing persecution of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia. He lived and studied in Canada, working for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, before moving back to the Horn of Africa in 2001 to open a clothing business.
Makhtal tried to leave Somalia via Kenya because of the fierce fighting in the country but was picked up by Kenyan authorities on December 30 when he applied to enter the country. He was held at the border for three days and then moved to a police station in Nairobi. It took two weeks for Makhtal to gain access to legal advice and even longer to secure Canadian consular access. He was deported to Somalia along with 29 other people picked up on the Kenyan side of the border. Their exact whereabouts are unknown, though Makhtal's lawyers believe he is in Ethiopian hands and may have been sent to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
|Bashir Makhtal's family say he is a business man, not an Islamic Courts fighter
This is just one example of how the so-called war on terror gives rise to the illegal detention of dozens of people each month in Kenya. The global "war on terror" has resulted in some serious violations of international humanitarian law, not least the expulsion, deportation, or extraordinary rendition of suspects across the world.
The involvement of US and UK security services in the disappearances of such persons, and the alleged torture and illegal detention of them, have ceased to be reported in this country's media. It seems British citizens are no longer interested in reading about the scores of people illegally arrested and detained each month, perhaps because these are things that occur with such monotonous regularity.
One example of where the "war on terror" has resulted in the illegal detention of dozens of innocent people on a regular basis is in Kenya. The recent escalation of the conflict in Somalia led to a large flow of asylum seekers seeking to cross the border into neighbouring Kenya.
The war currently being fought between Islamist militias and US-backed Ethiopian and Somali forces has cost countless lives. In January 2007, Kenya closed her border with her neighbour and has routinely patrolled the area ever since, arbitrarily arresting individuals under the guise of "suspected involvement in terrorism". After arrest, many of these individuals are held illegally for long periods and denied access to their consulates, families, or legal representatives. On at least three occasions, such persons have been placed on specially chartered flights from Kenya to Somalia since January 2007. It is suspected that many individuals are then moved to Ethiopian prisons. Reports have said these people are often tortured while they are questioned by US and UK security services (as well as Ethiopian and Somali ones).
A potential reason for the US interest in this region dates back to the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya by people believed to be connected with Osama bin Laden. It has since been suspected that Somalia offered safe haven to the persons involved in these attacks.
The official line from the US is that its agencies have had access to such persons but were not involved in their arrest, transport or deportation. Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman, said:
"While in custody of the foreign government, the FBI was granted limited access to interview certain individuals of interest ... We do not support or participate in any system that illegally detains foreign fighters or terror suspects, including women and children."
If this is true, Mr Kolko, then why did the FBI allow these prisoners to remain in such conditions after the agency had access to them? Surely, leaving these people to be tortured is tantamount to being complicit in such actions?
Tuwein Kamilya Mohamed, a citizen of the UAE, was arrested with her boss, a member of the royal family in Oman, along with a policeman from Oman who was serving as a bodyguard. The arrest of the two men resulted in a letter from their consulate to the Kenyan ministry of foreign affairs, after which Kenya quietly put the two on a flight back home. The deportation of Ms Kamiliya was authorised by the Kenyan ministry of state for immigration and registration of persons on the grounds that her presence in the country was "contrary to national interest". Ms Mohamed was deported on the January 27 flight and has not been located since.
The world seems to have forgotten that international humanitarian law protects everyone. Like it or not, this protection is even afforded to those suspected of serious violations of international law, such as members of al-Qaida. Similarly, it seems to have been forgotten that all countries involved in a conflict must abide by international law, including the law relating to captured civilians and combatants.
Yet it seems countries with US backing routinely flout these rules. And these instances are not isolated: they are horrific, systematic abuses of the system of international humanitarian law and of individuals themselves. The free press should constantly report these abuses until they cease to occur.
Rosa Davis is a law student currently studying for the bar. A former social worker, she holds a masters in Public International Law. She lives with her husband in London.