Friday, August 01, 2008


A disgraceful episode in Kenya’s recent history remains unexplained despite a pledge from the Government last year that answers would be forthcoming.

Between December 30, 2006, and February last year, at least 140 men, women and children fleeing conflict in Somalia were arrested as they tried to enter the country.

According to an Amnesty International report, most of the detainees were held for weeks without charge and some were reportedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated. Some were allegedly beaten by Kenyan police officers and forced to undress before being photographed. Foreign interrogators were also allowed to question some.

The detainees did not have access to their relatives or to lawyers as would be expected for most prisoners. All were also denied access to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or to asylum procedures.

The global human rights body found 85 of these people were unlawfully transferred to Somalia, then a war-zone.

"Four, who were residents of the United Kingdom, were sent from Somalia to the UK and released," AI says. "The remaining 81 (13 of them women who had their children with them or were pregnant) were transferred to Ethiopia.

"However, Ethiopian authorities only acknowledge the detention of 41 people, 22 of whom were later released. One was brought to military court and the whereabouts of the remaining 40 detainees are unknown."

Only one detainee from the original group of 140 was charged in Kenya. Twenty-seven were either released or deported. The location of the remaining 27 detainees was unknown as at mid-last year.
Local human rights groups have claimed that at least 19 Kenyan citizens were involved in the renditions — transfers to other nations without the involvement of the courts or the judicial process. They also provided testimony from some of the 27 people arrested at the Kenya-Somali border and later released in the country, corroborating findings of mistreatment of detainees.

Last October, the Government said a list of 19 deportees provided by these groups did not include any Kenyans. However, it did not address the question of any detainees whose fate is unknown or answer to the charges of those released that they were tortured by foreign agents.

Even if the Government is telling the truth about not transfering citizens to other countries (apart from Mohammad Abdul Malik, currently in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) it has to account for everyone police arrested.

The prospect of any individuals still being held incommunicado because their status as citizens precludes them being renditioned is as horrifying as the claims Kenyan suspects have been bundled off to prisons in foreign lands.

Mounting concern in the Muslim community over harassment or discrimination in the application and enforcement of the law led to the appointment of a Presidential Special Action Committee. According to a restricted report by the committee obtained by The Standard: "There is evidence Kenyan Muslims have been unlawfully removed... to foreign countries without due process of the law."

This is a serious charge that deserves credible answers. How can foreign investigators come and get people from a soverign country like Kenya, ship or transfer them to unknown destinations without considerations of international law and without any due reverence to the authority of the Government of Kenya ? What is wrong with our judiciary or what is wrong in charging the same suspects in our own country ?

Amnesty International has called on Ethiopian, Kenyan and Somali authorities to immediately disclose the fate and whereabouts of all detainees.

"Detainees must be promptly charged and tried before an ordinary court or else released," AI says. "No one should be transferred to the custody of another state unless the transfer is carried out in line with international standards." We concur.

While the transfer of terror suspects is often necessary, it should be done within the law and only to nations where they are unlikely to face torture, ill-treatment or other human rights violations.

The war on terror can and should be fought without trampling the Constitution.