Investigate "torture" in Mt
Elgon operation, government urged
NAIROBI, 28 July 2008 (IRIN) - A public inquiry should be set up
into "torture and war crimes" committed by the Sabaot Land Defence
Forces (SLDF) militia and the military in Mt Elgon District, human
rights activists said.
"We need an independent civilian inspectorate of the police and
military ... to restore trust in the security forces," Ben
Lawrence of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Africa Division said in
Nairobi at the launch of a report, All the Men Have Gone: War
Crimes in Kenya's Mt Elgon District.
The report documents two years of "abuses" by both the SLDF and
security forces. The SLDF, it alleges, were responsible for
killing at least 600 people, terrorising thousands and torturing
hundreds since 2006.
The police, paramilitary and military, on the other hand, are
alleged to have tortured hundreds of men detained in mass
round-ups since March in response to the militia activities.
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe refuted the claims, saying the
Kenyan police had followed international practice while performing
their duties in the district.
"We have done our own investigations [on the allegations] and will
be releasing a comprehensive report in due course," he told IRIN,
describing the reports as "very inaccurate and far-fetched".
Blaming both the SLDF and government security forces for serious
human rights abuses, the report said: "The Kenyan government has a
responsibility to promptly and impartially investigate and
prosecute the individuals responsible for these crimes."
"This is not an acceptable way of dealing with an insurgency ...
It should be within the law," Lawrence said. The SLDF was formed
in 2006 to seek redress for alleged injustices during land
distribution in a settlement scheme known as Chebyuk, with the
conflict pitting two main clans of the Sabaot against each other.
At least 37 people have "disappeared" after being taken into
custody by security forces, according to the human rights group,
and residents had remained wary of retributions from SLDF militias.
"The military and the police have a responsibility to protect the
people from any regrouping by the SLDF," HRW said.
HRW's Africa director, Georgette Gagnon, said the "successful"
operation to tackle the rebellion in Mt Elgon had come at a
The group called on foreign governments providing military aid and
other assistance to Kenyan security forces to review that support
in light of the mounting evidence of torture.
"Right now there is calm in Mt Elgon; people are pleased with what
the military is doing but not the impact of the first three weeks
of the [military] intervention," Job Bwonya, executive director of
the Western Kenya Human Rights Watch, said.
"The government should also come up with a land policy to prevent
further suffering of the people of Mt Elgon," Tiger Wanyanja, a
human rights activist, said.
Hassan Omar Hassan, a commissioner with the Kenya National
Commission on Human Rights called for a "stop to the strategy of
intimidation of humanitarian groups" working in the district.
On 21 July, the charity Médecins Sans Frontières said its staff
had been stopped at roadblocks and prevented by local authorities
from providing medical assistance to civilians in the district.