Security agencies are killing and abducting men in north-east Kenya suspected of links to Islamist extremists, a rights group said Wednesday, as police challenged them to provide evidence to an independent body.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 34 "enforced disappearances" and 11 suspected "extrajudicial killings" over two years in Garissa, Mandera and Wajir counties as part of counterterrorism operations in Kenya's predominately ethnic Somali north-east.
"People in northeastern Kenya deserve protection from al-Shabaab attacks, not further abuse from the authorities," said HRW executive director Ken Roth.
He said the cases documented were "just the tip of the iceberg."
The report details people taken from their homes by masked, armed men who did not identify themselves, or being beaten in the streets and driven away in government vehicles.
Some of the disappeared were last seen in police or military custody. No one has been charged with any crime, nor are their families able to trace them.
"Rounding people up and refusing to disclose their whereabouts is a serious crime and only compounds fears and mistrust in the security forces," Roth said.
Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) is regularly accused of intimidating or killing suspects.
Both human rights and academic researchers have repeatedly warned that the heavy-handed approach alienates and angers communities, helping drive radicalization.
Those warnings have been ignored, HRW says, with a range of security agencies employing the same tactics in north-east Kenya under the legal authority of Kenya's National Security Council, headed by the president and other senior officials.
- 'Multi-agency abuse' -
"The allegations raised by Human Rights Watch are very serious," said police spokesman Charles Owino.
"We challenge them to provide all the evidence they have about those allegations to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, the Witness Protection Unit and the Director of Public Prosecutions for a thorough investigation so that action can be taken," he said.
"I know they will not trust us to investigate ourselves and that is why we are saying they give all the information to IPOA which is an independent body charging with investigating police excesses."
There is a host of security agencies deployed in Kenya's north-east, including national police and reservists, the army and even the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
All are said to be implicated in the alleged murders and abductions of mostly ethnic Somali men in their 20s-40s.
"This is multi-agency abuse, with a sophisticated operational structure that reaches to the highest levels of government," Roth said.
The report also points the finger at Kenya's new National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) established to coordinate the counterterrorism operations.
Since sending troops into Somalia in 2011, Kenya has suffered numerous terrorist attacks by the Somali-led al-Qaida group, the Shabaab, including an assault on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall in 2013 and a massacre of students at a university in Garissa in 2015.
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