Nairobi — The Kenyan government should end its arbitrary attacks by members of the military and others against residents of the northern region as a routine response to any attack on its security forces.
In the most recent apparent reprisal attack, the Kenyan military responded violently on November 19, 2012, to an attack in which three soldiers were shot dead in the northern town of Garissa, almost 400 kilometers from the capital, Nairobi. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that, immediately after the killings of the three officers, the Kenyan army surrounded the town, preventing anyone from leaving or entering, and started attacking residents and traders. The witnesses said that the military shot at people, raped women, and assaulted anyone in sight.
"The level of abuse by Kenyan security agencies following the Monday afternoon attack on three of its military officers is appalling and a complete contradiction of the government's obligation to protect its citizens and guarantee their rights and freedoms," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This has become a pattern that should not be allowed to continue."
The government should respect the rule of law and ensure that its security agencies follow the strict letter of the law in detaining people before handing them over to the criminal justice system, Human Rights Watch said. It should ensure there are speedy and independent criminal investigations into all the incidents in which abuses have been alleged, and those responsible should be brought to justice.
An employee of Garissa Provincial Hospital said at least 52 people with severe injuries had been admitted there on November 19 and 20, following the army reprisals. At least eight of those admitted had gunshot wounds. The soldiers also set fire to businesses, among them Muqti market, the Alwaqaf building, and Maua Posho Mill, the witnesses said.
The military remained in barracks on November 20, but regular police, administration police, and riot police continued the attacks, witnesses said. Among those admitted with gunshot wounds at Garissa Provincial Hospital were two school boys who some witnesses said had been shot on November 20 when they joined public protests against the violent security operation. But other witnesses said the students had been shot on November 19 on their way home from school.
"You cannot imagine the human rights abuses that are taking place in Garissa," Aden Duale, member of parliament for Dujis Constituency of Garissa County, told Human Rights Watch within hours of the operation on November 19. "The town is burning, over 70 people have been injured, some by gunshots from the Kenya Defense Forces, women have been raped."
In a May report, "Criminal Reprisals: Kenyan Police and Military Abuses Against Ethnic Somalis," Human Rights Watch documented serious abuses by security officers in the northern region following attacks in which security officers were killed. In response to the report, the military promised to end such violent reprisals and formed a committee to investigate the abuses. There is no indication, however, that anyone in the military has been detained or investigated as a result, and the chair of the committee has since been transferred to a different position. There has also been no evidence of any investigations by police into the abuses.
In October Human Rights Watch again documented cases of similar abuses in Mandera and Garissa, each time in response to a grenade or gun attack on security officers. The reprisals in Garissa come barely a month later.
"The Kenyan government should take direct responsibility for the persistent abuses by its security forces in Northern Kenya, get them under control, and hold them to account," Lefkow said.