Kenya: State Army and Militia ‘Commit War Crimes’ in Mt. Elgon
Catholic Information Service for Africa (Nairobi)
4 April 2008
Posted to the web 4 April 2008
A ragtag militia and the Kenyan military are responsible for horrific abuses, including killings, torture and rape of civilians, in the armed conflict in Mt. Elgon in the west.
Human Rights Watch said Friday in a joint statement with two Kenyan human rights organizations, Mwatikho and Western Kenya-Human Rights Watch (WKHRW), that the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) has killed more than 600 people since 2006 and terrorized the local population.
The militia originally took up arms in 2005 to defend land seized during the controversial Chebyuk settlement scheme, a government plan to re-settle landless people that was marred by corruption and arbitrary land-grabbing. In recent months SLDF was co-opted by opposition politicians to ensure particular candidates won seats in the hotly contested December 2007 elections, HRW said.
The Kenyan army was deployed in March 2008 to quell the insurgency. Local residents initially welcomed the army but scores of eyewitnesses told the human rights organizations that the army has pursued a strategy of rounding up all adult males.
Preliminary estimates by the organizations suggest that the military has detained thousands, tortured hundreds, and unlawfully killed dozens of people. Thousands of people are believed to have been displaced by the violence.
“The people of Mt. Elgon are being doubly victimized, first by the rebel militia and now by the army,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Sabaot Land Defence Force has committed hideous crimes and people welcomed the army at first. But now Kenyan soldiers are abusing those they are supposed to protect.”
HRW documented deliberate killings, torture, and rape of civilians by members of the Sabaot force and the Kenyan army, and mass detentions by Kenyan military forces. The organisation interviewed more than 100 victims and eyewitnesses as well as members of the police force and army, government officials, journalists and humanitarian workers.
Several women described how SLDF troops broke into their homes, kidnapped their husbands at gunpoint, and told the women, “You won’t see your man again.” Many of them have not. One woman learned about the fate of her husband when a man she knows to be a member of the SLDF gave her a pile of the clothes he was wearing when he was abducted and said, simply, “sorry.”
HRW also interviewed victims of Kenyan military abuses. Several witnesses who were beaten at Kapkota military base said they saw people beaten to death there. A resident of Kaptaboi village described seeing a military helicopter dropping off bodies last Wednesday.
The human organizations called on leaders of the SLDF and the Kenyan army to immediately end the abuses and issue clear, public orders to protect civilians. The Kenyan authorities should also investigate serious crimes, leading to the prosecution of those responsible, in particular the principal organizers.