SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)-An international rights organization has accused Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) of being responsible for a series of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, urging international donors to halt support for the biased unit.
“Kenyan counterterrorism forces appear to be killing and disappearing people right under the noses of top government officials, major embassies, and the United Nations,” Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Monday, August 18.
“This horrendous conduct does not protect Kenyans from terrorism – it simply undermines the rule of law.”
HRW accusations were based on a research conducted in Kenya between November 2013 and June 2014.
The research cites 22 interviews with victims’ family members, witnesses, journalists, lawyers, imams, police officers, and terrorism suspects in Nairobi’s Majengo neighborhood.
The research has documented more than “10 cases of killings, 10 cases of enforced disappearances, and 11 cases of mistreatment or harassment of terrorism suspects” that point fingers at the much criticized APTU.
According to HRW report, terrorism “suspects” were shot dead in public places, abducted from vehicles and courtrooms, beaten badly during arrest, detained in isolated blocks, and denied contact with their families or access to lawyers.
Along with ATPU involvement, the General Service Unit (GSU), military intelligence, and National Intelligence Service (NIS) were also accused of abusing suspects and targeted killing.
“The justice system in Kenya is not favorable to the work of the police. So we opt to eliminate them [suspects],” an anonymous member of the anti-terror unit told the BBC last December.
“We identify you, we gun you down in front of your family, and we begin with the leaders.”
Similar accusations to ATPU were fielded by families of Kenyan Muslims who were victims of disappearances and killing.
Citing dozens of cases of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing, HRW has called on international donors to stop supporting Kenya’s anti-terror unit for breaching human rights and international conventions.
“The ATPU has been conducting abusive operations for years, sometimes very openly, yet the Kenyan authorities have done nothing to investigate, much less stop these crimes,” Lefkow said.
“Donors need to carry out their own investigations of these abuses and suspend their assistance to abusive forces, or risk being complicit in Kenya’s culture of impunity.”
Besides receiving regular support and training from the US and the UK, ATPU was granted US$19 million by the US in 2012 alone, according to a 2013 report.
The HRW report stated that killed suspects were last seen in ATPU custody where they faced threats to be killed by the unit in case they were set free by the court.
After being labeled by the unit as terrorism suspects in October 2012, Hassan Omondi Owiti and Shekha Wanjiru were killed in Nairobi, May 18, 2013 in a police raid on their resident in Nairobi.
“We saw several commandos wearing balaclavas in the middle of the night alight from vehicles dashing into the house,” a 34-year-old businessman who lived in a neighboring block told Human Rights Watch.
“We heard continuous gunshots for about two minutes and then there was a lull in the shooting. We then heard that two terrorists had been killed.”
Owiti’s close friend, Khalif Mwangi, 29, was also tortured and killed by the unit two days later.
“It was horrifying to view the body,” a relative who saw the mutilated body in the mortuary told Human Rights Watch.
“We think he was badly tortured before he was killed,” she added.
“His skin had been peeled off, eyes gouged out, ears burned with acid, finger nails and toes removed and the skull was broken.”
Muslim minors have also been targeted by the anti-terror unit over the past few years.
In one of the cases, a 17-year-old student at a Nairobi school was arrested for over a year in April 2012.
“I was interrogated by ATPU officers for days in the absence of an adult or a lawyer,” the student said.
“I was then taken through a normal court process and not a juvenile court as required. An appeal court judge freed me after one year and criticized the lower court for failing to protect our rights and convicting us without evidence.”
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Kenya has not signed, defines an enforced disappearance as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of the liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”