Kenya, Ethiopia, the United States and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia cooperated in a secret detention program for people who had fled the recent conflict in Somalia, Human Rights Watch said today.
In a March 22 letter to the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights Watch detailed the arbitrary detention, expulsion and apparent enforced disappearance of dozens of individuals who fled the fighting between the Union of Islamic Courts and the joint forces of the Transitional Federal Government and Ethiopia from December 2006 through January 2007.
"Each of these governments has played a shameful role in mistreating people fleeing a war zone," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director of Human Rights Watch. "Kenya has secretly expelled people, the Ethiopians have caused dozens to ‘disappear,' and US security agents have routinely interrogated people held incommunicado."
Human Rights Watch's recent research in Kenya indicates that since late December 2006, Kenyan security forces arrested at least 150 individuals from some 18 different nationalities at the Liboi and Kiunga border crossing points with Somalia. The Kenyan authorities then transferred these individuals to Nairobi where they were detained incommunicado and without charge for weeks in violation of Kenyan law.
Human Rights Watch recognizes that Kenya may have valid security concerns regarding people seeking refuge within its borders. Nonetheless these concerns must be addressed through a fair process in accordance with international law, not arbitrarily at the expense of fundamental human rights.
US and other national intelligence services interrogated several foreign nationals in detention in Nairobi, who were denied access to legal counsel and their consular representatives. At least 85 people were then secretly deported from Kenya to Somalia in what appears to be a joint rendition operation of those individuals of interest to the Somali, Ethiopian, or US governments.
Human Rights Watch obtained the flight manifests for three flights from Kenya to Mogadishu and Baidoa, Somalia in January and February 2007. Each manifest listed the names of several Kenyan police officers who accompanied the detainees.
Many of the people expelled from Kenya were later transferred from Somalia to Ethiopia, but their exact locations in Ethiopia are unknown. Several detainees managed to briefly contact relatives prior to or following their transfer to Ethiopia, and said they were being held with numerous other people who had been deported from Kenya and Somalia.
"Dozens of people have effectively disappeared into Ethiopian detention facilities," said Gagnon. "It's imperative that the Ethiopians acknowledge the people they are holding and permit independent international access to them."