(Nairobi) – The Kenyan government should ensure that its forces in Somalia abide by the laws of war and avoid harm to civilians, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Kenyan minister of state for defense. The government should also promptly and impartially investigate recent incidents in which Kenyan forces may have violated international humanitarian or human rights law.
Kenyan armed forces entered Somalia on October 16, 2011, in military operations against the Islamist armed group al-Shabaab called Operation “Linda Nchi” (Swahili for “Protect the Nation”). Human Rights Watch expressed concern regarding three separate incidents in which Kenyan armed forces may have conducted unlawful attacks harming civilians or mistreated people in custody in Somalia and Kenya. All parties to the armed conflict in Somalia should respect the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said.
“Kenya’s Somalia operation has resulted in apparent attacks on a camp for displaced people and a fishing boat,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Kenya needs to find out exactly what happened and make sure that those responsible for any wrongdoing are punished appropriately.”
On October 30, the Kenyan air force carried out an attack with aerial bombardment that struck an internally displaced persons camp on the outskirts of the town of Jilib, Somalia. A witness wounded in the attack described to Human Rights Watch seeing a dark green plane drop one bomb on the camp, return to drop a second bomb on the camp, and then start machine gun strafing. The international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières reported treating 45 wounded people, including 31 children, and confirmed 5 civilian deaths following the aerial bombardment. Kenyan authorities later confirmed conducting a military operation in the vicinity.
On November 4, the Kenyan navy attacked a fishing boat at Kiunga, near the Somali border, resulting in the death of four Kenyan fishermen, ages 60 to 84. The authorities claim the fishing boat refused to stop for inspection. But survivors told the Muslim Human Rights Forum that the boat was anchored offshore when the attack occurred. Military personnel then allegedly beat the survivors who had swum to shore.
The Kenyan authorities should publish the findings of an investigation into the Jilib attack promised by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and investigate the attack on the fishing boat, Human Rights Watch said. Those harmed in unlawful attacks or their families should be appropriately compensated.
In a third incident, Kenyan military personnel arbitrarily detained and mistreated civilians in the town of Garissa, Kenya, on November 11. A witness told Human Rights Watch that soldiers picked up people who looked Somali, beat them, and forced them to sit in dirty water while interrogating them.
“The Kenyan authorities should not use the current military operation as an excuse to clamp down on the rights of people within its borders,” Bekele said.