Kenyan troops trained by British are condemned for ‘death’ campaign

The Times of London
Nairobi, Kenya

The Kenyan Army, which receives training and support from Britain, was accused yesterday of torture and murder by a United Nations investigator.

Speaking at the end of a ten-day visit to the country Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, said that Kenyan soldiers were responsible for the deaths or disappearances of 200 people in the Mount Elgon area during a police and army operation that began in March last year. Mr Alston called the figure a conservative estimate.

Human Rights Watch in New York alleges that the 20 Para regiment of the Kenyan Army, trained in counter-terrorism by Britain, was responsible for the disappearances as well as the torture of perhaps thousands more.

Human rights activists first made the charges last year but this is the first time that a UN investigator has backed the claims. The Ministry of Defence briefly suspended the training of Kenyan troops.

Ben Rawlence, a Kenya researcher at Human Rights Watch, called on Britain to suspend all training of Kenyan military units. “The UK Government has a responsibility to conduct proper investigations into allegations of torture and extrajudicial killing by troops it may have trained,” he said. “All it has done so far is to take Kenyan assurance at face value and turn a blind eye.”

In his statement in Nairobi yesterday Mr Alston said: “The denial on the part of the military \ that they played no part in torture or killings is not supported by the sheer weight of evidence.”

Mr Alston told The Times that Britain had a responsibility and should use its leverage as a country with close ties to Kenya to encourage the military to “clean up its act”.

A spokesman at the British High Commission in Nairobi said: “We are deeply concerned by these allegations surrounding the Mount Elgon operation and we have raised those concerns with the Kenyan Government.”

The criticism of Mr Alston was not limited to the military. “Kenyan police are a law unto themselves,” he said. “They kill often, with impunity. I have received overwhelming testimony that there exists in Kenya a systematic, widespread and carefully planned strategy to execute individuals carried out on a regular basis by the Kenyan police.”

He said that Amos Wako, the Attorney-General, should resign for his failure to prosecute police and army officers accused of murder. Mr Alston also called for Hussein Ali, the Kenyan chief of police, who has denied that his police force was responsible for any illegal killings, to be sacked.

The UN report came as a whistleblower within the police said that there were dedicated death squads responsible for the murder of dozens of so-called criminals. Mr Alston said that labelling victims criminals “enables the police to pretty much kill at will”.

One such case was the son of a former MP who was shot three times by an off-duty police officer in January. According to the police report, he was an armed robber and a member of the Mungiki sect, a feared criminal gang. Local newspapers reported that James Mururi, 28, had a row with the officer about a woman in a bar earlier in the evening.

Mr Alston said that despite being invited into Kenya by the Government, some of those he interviewed were threatened by security officers and had been forced to flee. “This has never happened to me before,” he said, referring to investigations into state-sponsored murder that he has led in the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Brazil.

Mr Alston said that a tribunal should be established to try those responsible for the violence after the disputed Kenyan election in 2007.

About 1,500 people died in weeks of politically motivated ethnic attacks. He said that the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague should begin an investigation.

It has been a year since a coalition Government was established, bringing an end to the bloodshed. “The ethnic warfare that nearly destroyed Kenya is not far below the surface. The next explosion is not far off,” Mr Alston said.