Human Rights Watch wants US Secretary of State John Kerry to press the President to publicly acknowledge “widespread” rights abuses and commit to ending injustices.
HRW asked Kerry to use his visit to Nairobi on Monday to push President Uhuru Kenyatta to assure an end to extrajudicial killings, and hostilities against media and civil societies.
The international human rights lobby group said the Secretary of State should press for equals rights and rule of law.
“During your visit in May 2015, you called attention to the fact that ‘President Kenyatta reinforced his agreement with us that human rights and the rule of law have to be respected in the counterterrorism efforts,” HRW noted in its letter to Kerry dated August 19.
“While there have been some efforts to move in this direction, they have been mostly cosmetic,” noted Washington director Sarah Margon.
Margon further noted that they have continued to document serious abuses in counterterrorism operations in Kenya, including enforced disappearances and torture.
She said at least 34 cases of extrajudicial killings, and 11 deaths of people last seen in state custody over links to terror group al Shabaab, were recorded over a period of eight months.
Margon noted the deaths were recorded in Nairobi and parts of Northeastern, and that their research showed multiple security agencies were involved in arrests and forced disappearances.
These included Kenya Defence Forces especially the Directorate of Military Intelligence, police units including the ATPU and the Administration Police, National Intelligence Service, and Kenya Wildlife Service rangers.
Local human rights organisation, including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, have also documented widespread and systematic cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in security operation.
Senior Kenyans officials have neither acknowledged the abuses nor committed to investigations or expressed concern for the whereabouts of the missing people.
Human Rights Watch said civilian oversight mechanisms were either weak or lacked the mandate to investigate abuse, particularly those carried out by the KDF.
The lobby added that the involvement of multiple units and lack of investigations indicated were more than simply the work of rogue officers. It noted a high level of coordination and control by government or security officials.
Margon told Kerry: “We hope you will raise these issues in your meetings with President Kenyatta and senior defense officials.”
“He should urgently establish an independent and credible multiagency commission to investigate ongoing cases of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture in counterterrorism operations country-wide.”
Rescind Dadaab refugee camp closure
Margon reminded Kerry that he called last year for refugees not to be forcibly repatriated but that the case of the Dadaab refugee camp does not reflect this.
“The Kenyan government’s May 2016 termination of prima facie refugee recognition of Somalis, the dissolution of its Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), and the announcement that it intends to close Dadaab refugee camp by November, put thousands of lives in jeopardy,” the letter says.
HRW said it has documented cases of Kenyan police abusing Somali refugees through rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, extortion of money and law enforcement operations marked by discrimination.
“As a state party to the 1969 Africa Refugee Convention, Kenya has a legal obligation to ensure that anyone at risk of generalised violence, including Somali nationals, will not face unlawful forced return,” reads the letter.
“In the specific case of Somali asylum seekers, we are deeply concerned that such returns will result in serious harm due to the ongoing conflict between al Shabaab, government forces, and clan militia.”
HRW said refugees and asylum seekers could face increased harassment and extortion if the returns process intensifies.
“Accordingly, we urge you to press the Kenyan government to rescind the decision to repatriate Somali refugees and close Dadaab. In addition, the Kenyan government should commit to uphold their obligations under international refugee law and ensure all asylum seekers have access to asylum processes,” the letter says.
HRW further advised: “Given the dissolution of the DRA, the large number of unregistered Somali refugees, the high levels of generalised violence in Somalia, and the wider refugee definition in the Africa Refugee Convention, we recommend that you urge the Kenyan government to renew prima facie refugee recognition for Somali asylum seekers, the organisation advises.”
The letter also highlights the increasing difficult environment Kenyan civil society and media are operating in.”
Margon said her organisation remained concerned that hostile official rhetoric reinforced by efforts to implement new laws, could have a sharp negative impact on on the availability of independent news and analysis of the matter.
She added that this could also limit freedom of expression amid preparations for the August 8, 2017 general election.
Margon said the government should be reminded that the protection of civil society organisations, in line with the September 2014 Presidential Memorandum on Civil Society, is the US’ top priority.
“Any new legislation should respect international standards on freedom of expression and association,” she said.