Report: How police killed 40 in operation

Published on 09/06/2009

By Patrick Mathangani

Police and the military killed up to 40 people and used brutal torture methods during a security operation in Samburu, a new report by the Government’s Kenya National Commission on Human Rights says.

The report, coming in the backdrop of accusations of torture and extra-judicial killings by security forces, is likely to stoke more outrage over Kenya’s human rights record. The report also comes at a time when bandits have killed five police officers.

In the report, security forces are accused of using what is suspected to be irritant chemicals on women and children to mop up illegal guns in February. The substances, which were described as “hot water” by children interviewed by the KNCHR team, were allegedly sprayed from helicopters.

Security officers during the operation in Samburu on February. [PHOTO: MBUGUA KIBERA/STANDARD]

“The ‘hot water’ is suspected to be chemical used during war time,” says the report, which, however, adds the allegations are yet to be confirmed.

It recommends further investigation to establish residents’ accounts that the forces used bombs against unarmed civilians.

Contingents of police, General Service Unit and Army soldiers were sent to the district in pursuit of cattle raiders and bandits who attacked policemen in neighbouring Isiolo.

The operation, which was sharply criticised by Samburu leaders, lasted nearly a month.

A similar operation got underway last week after suspected Samburu bandits killed four policemen and injured several others.

Violence could escalate

On Monday, there were fears the violence could escalate as security forces ventured deeper into Samburu District to hunt down the seemingly unrelenting raiders.

The new report, seen by ‘The Standard’ yesterday, shows that insecurity that has been a major headache for the Government is politically instigated.

It heaps blame on a prominent politician in the region, who is allegedly behind an influx of Somali clans to increase the number of people likely to vote for him in 2012.

The Government can hardly afford another scandal just two weeks after a report by UN’s Prof Philip Alston recommended the sacking of Police Commissioner Hussein Ali and resignation of Attorney-General Amos Wako over human rights violations.

Security forces, including the Army, are accused of gross human rights’ violations during an onslaught against the Sabaot Land Defence Force in Mt Elgon District.

The Government saved itself embarrassment in Geneva last week when PNU and ODM agreed to support Alston’s findings although it defended Maj Gen Ali and Mr Wako. PNU had opposed the report, but ODM supported his findings.

The prominent politician is allegedly waging an onslaught against the Samburu to evict them from the constituency he represents and has organised an exodus of Ajuran and Garre clans from Mandera and Wajir districts.

Women and children were the major casualties in the operation that involved about 1,000 officers, says the report.

It details how security agents raided and attacked villages, firing randomly from the air and from the ground.

“The conduct of the exercise left villagers in Samburu traumatised from the use of helicopters, aimless firing and bizarre scattering of people,” says the report.

It goes on: “Many people sustained mental torture, especially women and children.”

Contingents fired at schoolyards and women drawing water, says the report, creating the image of trigger-happy forces.

Operation was haphazard

According to the report, the operation was haphazard, insensitive and only served to increase hostilities among communities in Isiolo, Samburu and Meru districts.

Yesterday, KNCHR Commissioner Samuel Tororei said the politician mentioned in the report was yet to respond to the commission’s enquiries.

“We wrote to him. We’ll give him up to the end of the month and if he fails, we’ll just have to hand it to the relevant authorities without his input,” said Mr Tororei.

The Army had said it was not involved in the operation, he said. Isiolo police, he pointed out, also denied using force.

The report will be handed to the ministries of Justice, Internal Security and relevant parliamentary committees, the commissioner said.

At the height of the operation, Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe told ‘The Standard’ the military was only providing “equipment” but was not taking part. However, residents told KNHCR that they saw soldiers in the operation.

True to the report’s prediction, violence has flared up again and the Borana, Samburu and Turkana are fighting over livestock and guns.

“The operation was hasty and culminated in destruction of lives, loss of property, intensified insecurity, food insecurity and increased tribal animosity,” says the report.

It adds: “The end of the operation failed to justify the means. As a conflict-prone area, Isiolo and Samburu are now more prone to conflict than before.”

Isiolo DC Kimani Waweru told ‘The Standard’ that by killing policemen, the Samburu were revenging against the February operation.

The report says the operation targeted an entire community rather than those who may have engaged in unlawful acts.

‘Strong warning to bandits’

However, Acting Police Spokesman Charles Owino said it was unfortunate that KNCHR had compiled the report without giving the police a hearing.

“It is very unfair to condemn the police without giving them a chance to defend their actions. There could be justifiable accusation, but the police ought to be given a chance to respond,” said Owino.

He said although the report cannot be trashed in its entirety, the operation in Samburu was above board.

“We want to issue a very strong warning to the bandits in Isiolo and Samburu that we are going to move there with a lot of force to tame the criminals,” he said.

He said it was unfortunate that KNCHR released the report at a time when many lives, including those of police officers, have been lost in Isiolo following aggression by raiders believed to be from Samburu.

“As we talk, four Administration police officers and a regular policeman have been killed by the bandits. Do they (KNCHR) want us to pursue the raiders using ‘rungus’?” asked Owino.

On his part, Military Spokesperson Bogita Ongeri said: “We need to see the report first. But the Army never engaged in the crimes. We are professionals.”

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