Kenyan police accused of torturing Somali refugees

Ethnic unrest between Somalis and Kenyans

According to a report released by Human Rights Watch, Kenyan police tortured, raped, abused and arbitrarily detained at least a 1,000 Somali refugees between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013, writes Mohammed Kahiye in Nairobi. 

HRW urged the Kenyan authorities to immediately open an independent public investigation and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) – which has not spoken publicly about the abuses – to document and publicly report on any future abuses against refugees.

The 68-page report, dubbed “You are All Terrorists’’ is based on interviews with 101 refugees, asylum seekers, and Kenyans of Somali ethnicity. The report documents how police used grenade and other attacks by unknown people in Nairobi’s mainly Somali suburb of Eastleigh and a government order to relocate urban refugees to refugee camps. This was also used as an excuse to rape, beat, extort money from, and arbitrarily detain so far at least 1,000 people.

The police described their victims as “terrorists,” and demanded payments to free them. The HRW report says: “Over 50 cases were documented in which the abuses would amount to torture.”

“Ten weeks of hell”

“Refugees told us how hundreds of Kenyan police unleashed 10 weeks of hell on communities close to the heart of Nairobi, torturing, abusing, and stealing from some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for HRW. Randomly attacking men, women, and children in their homes and in the streets is hardly an effective way to protect Kenya’s national security”.

However, Masoud Mwinyi, a police spokesman said that officers were unlikely to have committed such a large number of abuses and stated that investigators would study the documents and assess whether the claims are credible.

“It cannot be true … collecting a 1,000 people is a big number, even if it were over a long period. Officers operate under a code of ethics and professionalism. I wouldn’t imagine that such a thing could happen without us knowing.”

Islamophobia in Kenya

Following the Kenyan Defense forces incursion into Somalia in October 2011 on what the government believes to be pursuing threats posed by Al-Shabaab to its national security, increased cases of Islamophobia have mainly been directed towards Somalis.

Since the Kenyan military operation inside Somalia which was dubbed “Linda inchi”, a Swahili word meaning to “defend the national”, the majority of the victims of the retaliatory attacks carried out by Al-Shabaab sympathizers inside Kenyan soil were Muslims, hence the government of Kenya blames the Somali ethnic community who they suspect are collaborating with Al-Shaabab.

Fatma Juma, a non-Somali Muslim explains how she experienced “Somaliphobia” directed towards her because of her Muslim attire. Many Kenyans believe that it’s only Somalis who are Muslims.

She said: “I have been mistreated several times by my fellow Christian Kenyans in public transport. Once someone told me ‘what are you doing here? Go back to your country you Somali.’ But in reality I am not a Somali.”

The 32 year-old mother of four recalls how she was rescued by a journalist covering a riot between Muslim protesters against the deportation of controversial Jamaican cleric Sheikh Al-Faysal and Christian youths who sided with the security forces. “A crowd of non-Muslim protesters shouted at me – you Somali! You want to destroy our country and threw stones at me while I was trying to hide behind a journalist’s camera, but the reporter explained to them that I was not a Somali.’’

The UN and other human rights groups said that rounding up refugees is no substitute for intelligence-led anti-terrorism operations. Kenyan officials still seek to force all refugees out of towns and cities, but the order has been challenged in the courts by Kenyan human rights groups. Judges will decide whether the relocation is legal by June 30.

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