Human Rights Groups Appeal over Kenyan Counterterrorism Abuses

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NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative has joined international and Kenyan human rights groups in calling on the United Nations to respond to a surge in abuses by Kenyan security forces linked to ongoing counterterrorism operations.

In a joint letter to Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the groups cite “credible allegations” of widespread human rights violations that have taken place against a background of a series of terrorism attacks in Kenya, including the assault on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping center last September which left over 70 people dead. The groups sent a similar letter to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“In committing these violations, Kenya is backtracking on important human rights commitments made in the constitutional, legislative, and institutional reforms after the widespread 2007/2008 post-election violence, and risking further unrest,” the letter says.

In addition to the Justice Initiative, the letter is signed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Haki Africa, Justice Forum and MUHURI.

The abuses cited include:

  • Unlawful killings, abductions and disappearances of individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism, and the failure to investigate.
  • The detention of over 4,000 people during a security operation in Nairobi targeting Somalis, ethnic Somali Kenyans, and others, with related ill-treatment, including physical and sexual abuse, and the extortion of money.
  • Threats against human rights defenders; and the arrest, detention, and ill-treatment of journalists.
  • Mass deportations across the border to Somalia, and the denial of access to UN refugee officials.

The letter also notes that Kenya’s counterterrorism-related human rights violations have been accompanied by public statements by government officials who have issued shoot-to-kill orders and denounced Kenya’s judiciary for its alleged ineffectiveness in tackling terrorism. At the same time, the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo has publicly threatened and warned off human rights defenders from documenting counterterrorism operations in Nairobi.

The appeal calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to remind Kenya of its obligations under international human rights law, and of the need to offer proper protection to refugees fleeing Somalia.

The appeal also calls on the ACHPR Special Mechanisms to engage with the Kenya government and to request an invitation for a country visit to assess the extent to which Kenya is complying with its regional and international human rights obligations regarding the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and others in the context of abusive counterterrorism operations.