Bloomberg News

Human Rights Watch Asks Court to Probe Kenyan Disappearances

October 27, 2011

Oct. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Human Rights Watch asked the International Criminal Court to broaden its probe of post- election violence in Kenya to include a conflict in the Mount Elgon region that left more than 1,300 people dead or missing.

Kenyan security forces and a militia known as the Sabaot Land Defense Force may have committed atrocities in Mount Elgon, where suspected mass graves have been found, the New York-based advocacy group said today in a report released in Nairobi. The ICC should consider investigating the conflict because Kenyan authorities failed to ensure an independent inquiry into abuses by both sides, it said.

“If the government cannot ensure justice for the Mt. Elgon victims whose families have waited for over three years for justice, regional and international bodies should step in,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.

The SLDC began an insurgency in the Mount Elgon region, about 350 kilometers (218 miles) northwest of Nairobi, in 2006 as it tried to block attempts by the government to evict squatters from the area. Human Rights Watch blamed the militia for about 750 deaths by mid-2008 and said Kenya’s military killed 270 people after it began intervening in the conflict in March that year. In addition, an estimated 199 people went missing at the hands of the security forces, while the militia was responsible for 126 disappearances, it said.

‘Inaccurate Information’

Kenya Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said that while Human Rights Watch is “entitled to their opinion, we wish to note that for quite some time now they have been basing their opinions on incredibly inaccurate information.”

The group failed to give a “balanced interpretation” of information provided by some of their witnesses and passed judgment using “very casual observations of reasonably complicated phenomenon,” Kiraithe said in an e-mailed response to questions today. The Kenyan authorities will study the report and investigate any “substantive allegations,” he said.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua declined to comment on the report during a media briefing today in Nairobi.

The ICC is currently investigating violence in the wake of a disputed election in December 2007 in which 1,500 people were killed and 300,000 were forced to flee their homes. Six Kenyans, including Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, presidential aspirant William Ruto and former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali have been accused of crimes against humanity during the clashes. All six deny the accusations.

Political Violence

Most of the killings that took place in Mount Elgon took place in the run-up to the election and so form part of the political violence, Ben Rawlence, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said at a briefing today.

The ICC should investigate because the violence in Mount Elgon was “absolutely central to the political violence that took place in Kenya in 2007 and 2008,” he said.

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 31 family members along with lawmakers, police and judicial officials, diplomats and Internal Security Ministry agents from February to August to compile its report.

While family members have reported their relatives’ disappearances, the government hasn’t investigated “thoroughly, if at all,” Human Rights Watch said. The authorities haven’t prosecuted security personnel suspected of being involved in the disappearances and other rights abuses, it said.

“The government of Kenya and all its security agencies recognize that we have a duty to defend the fundamental democratic rights and freedoms of all individuals in this country and we shall continue to do so,” Kiraithe said.

The Sabaot are part of the Kalenjin ethnic group and consist mainly of pastoralists and farmers from western Kenya. The SLDF militia attacks targeted Kikuyus, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, and other crop growers who aren’t native to the fertile Mount Elgon region.

--Editors: Karl Maier, Dulue Mbachu

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Richardson in Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.


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