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(Nairobi) – President Uhuru Kenyatta should urgently establish a commission of inquiry to investigate reports of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and ill-treatment of detainees by the security forces, eight Kenyan and international human rights organizations said in a letter to the president on Saturday as the world marks International Human Rights Day.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honor before the annual State of the Nation address in the capital Nairobi on March 31, 2016. © 2016 Reuters 

Human rights organizations and media outlets have found credible evidence that units of the Kenyan security forces, including Kenya Police Service, the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF), the Kenya Wildlife Service, (KWS), and the National Intelligence Service (NIS), have killed, disappeared, and tortured people suspected of being terrorists or criminals. Justice for such cases has been inconsistent and victims are often left without avenues for redress.

“The Kenyan president has a responsibility to ensure that all government forces respect national and international human rights law and adhere to due process,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Victims of killings and disappearances by security agencies deserve answers, and a commission of inquiry is a critical first step.”

Kenyan authorities typically fail to acknowledge or publicly condemn abuses by security forces. Instead, government officials have denied that such abuses occur without investigating the allegations and, in some instances, threatened families, and the media and human rights activists who advocate for justice for the victims. Meanwhile, allegations of killings, torture, and disappearances have continued while suspected security officers have rarely been held to account for their alleged actions.

The range of security units involved and the geographical scope of the abuses has expanded in recent years. Various units of the national police, national intelligence service, military, and the wildlife police are actively involved in responding to increased Al-Shabab attacks since 2011.

In 2013, Open Society Justice Initiative and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) found that anti-terrorism police were involved in the killings and disappearances of individuals suspected of links to Al-Shabaab in the coast region. In 2014, a Human Rights Watch report implicated anti-terrorism police and the General Service Unit in similar abuses in Nairobi. In 2015, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights found that multiple units of the national police, military, and wildlife police were involved in torture, arbitrary arrests, killings, and disappearances of individuals linked to Al-Shabab at the coast, in Nairobi, and in the northeast. In 2016, Human Rights Watch found that both the military and police were implicated in at least 34 cases of disappearances and 11 cases of killings in the northeast and Nairobi.

In view of the widespread nature of these abuses and the fact that multiple security units are usually involved, especially in counterterrorism operations, it is unlikely that existing accountability institutions can effectively investigate and ensure justice for the victims and their families. This is why President Uhuru Kenyatta needs to establish a special commission of inquiry in line with the Kenya Commissions of Inquiry Act of 1962, the organizations said. Under this Act, the president has power to appoint a special commission to investigate a particular matter of public interest.

Allegations of abuse extend from the coastal region to Nairobi and the northeast. Most of the abuses in these regions have been in response to Al-Shabab attacks. Kenyan media and human rights organizations have recently been reporting another worrying trend in killings of young people by security forces – mainly the police.

Cases of killings of young people in rural areas and informal settlements, or low income areas in urban centers have been on the increase and yet are rarely investigated. Although the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), a civilian policing accountability institution, has a mandate to investigate such cases, their widespread nature and the possibility that other security agencies may be involved alongside the police, calls for a special mechanism.

“These violations must not be swept under the carpet. The president must take action to ensure the victims get justice, in line with the oath he took to protect the constitution,” said Abdullahi Halakhe, East Africa researcher at Amnesty International.

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