Accusations of gross human rights violations, suspension of civil liberties, torture, extra-judicial executions and abrogation of the peoples’ freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of Kenya by the Kenyan Military in Mount Elgon are real and must be Investigated
Source of the conflict
In the recent few months there have been several reports from Human Rights groups detailing the violations of human rights and torture in Mt Elgon. The military have been in the area to curb the work of the ragtag militia group the SLDF in the Chebyuk Settlement Scheme.
Chebyuk, located in Kenya’s Western Province, is part of what used to be known, in the colonial times as North Kavirondo, a region covering the valley of the Nzoia River, Western slopes of Mt. Elgon and the northern coast of Victoria Nyanza. Located in the Mt. Elgon District, to the West of Trans Nzoia District and North of Bungoma, Chepyuk is at the foot of Mt. Elgon in an area that was formerly a Forest Reserve. The area is predominantly inhabited by the Sabaot community. Other communities that live within the larger Mt. Elgon area are the Kalenjin to whom the Sabaot have close linguistic and cultural links, various Luhya sub-tribes and the Teso.
The problem in Mt Elgon begun in 2006 and the State did absolutely nothing about it. The Mt. Elgon land problem is a clear pointer to the fact that the people and institutions that control land and natural resources are also the ones who control political decisions. It is also a pointer to the fact that access to land is very much a political issue, often linked to historical injustices such as discrimination against indigenous populations.
The contention and reason for current bloodletting is the Chepyuk settlement schemes and the apparent manipulation with which it was done, leaving one clan thoroughly dissatisfied with the exercise. The SLDF was formed in 2006 to seek redress for alleged injustices during the land distribution in a settlement scheme with the conflict pitting two main clans of the Sabaot against each other. Many people instead suffered the attacks from the militia.
Operation Okoa Maisha – Kenya Army Expedition 2008
In early March 2008, the Kenyan army launched an operation dubbed okoa maisha (Life Saver) targeting the Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF) which was accused of carrying out an increasing number of attacks on villages, killing people, stealing cattle and destroying homes. Members of SLDF claim to be fighting for land which they say belongs to the Sabaot clan of the Kalenjin Community.
Upon deployment the military immediately sealed off Mt Elgon from the media, the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies and human rights organizations.
Reports of torture
Now reports coming out of a region that has been virtually declared a military operation zone are too frightening to ignore. Cases are being documented of arbitrary arrests and detention, systematic torture, killings and other abuses on a vast scale. Among the reports are an investigation by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights
The military and the Ministry of Defence have routinely dismissed the reports, but the tales coming out of Mt Elgon are too consistent to be just ignored.
Thus far the official response has been muted and insufficient. While trumpeting SLDF abuses, government officials have persisted in denying reports of torture by the security forces even as the evidence has piled up, with reports and publicity in recent months from local human rights organizations, local media, Human Rights Watch, the Nairobi-based Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), and the constitutionally independent state human rights organ, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
Local human rights activists and journalists who have investigated and exposed abuses by both the SLDF and the security forces have been hounded.
Recently the Kenya Police charged a medical doctor who examined torture victims in Mt Elgon. This is meant to suppress independent investigations into the conduct of the military in the operation area.
The violence predates the turmoil that followed December’s disputed election, but shares many of its root causes – land disputes, ethnic rivalries and the neglect of outlying areas.
All reports of torture and killings must be investigated thoroughly and any organ or individual found culpable made to face the law.
Kenya Government ratified convention
Torture is prohibited by the UN Convention against torture, Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and peoples’ Rights and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all three international instruments ratified by Kenya. Section 74 of the Constitution of Kenya also prohibits torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.
It is time to act
Complaints have been made of atrocities committed by Kenyan soldiers and, as expected, they authorities have answered with acerbic denials. With due respect, both the army and police should immediately be subjected to independent (perhaps international) investigations and face the full force of the law in the near future.
It is only when there is independent verification of what exactly is taking place in the area that the Government’s denials can be taken seriously.
Kenyan authorities are duty bound to prevent criminal actions and to secure peace for its citizens. But strong, firm and decisive action to fulfil the State’s obligations under Kenyan law does not translate into a licence to commit gross human rights violations, suspension of civil liberties, torture, extra-judicial executions and abrogation of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of Kenya as contained in Chapter V – the Bill of Rights of the Individual.
Mars Group Kenya
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