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Disappearing Citizens and the Voiceless victims

By Fuad Abdirahman:

Images of police flogging terror suspects in Garissa emerged in May this year.

Images of police flogging terror suspects in Garissa that were widely circulated on social media in May this year.

Kenyan security forces conducted several counter terrorism operations, albeit abusive, in Eastleigh, Nairobi and Northern Kenya and some parts of the coastal region. These operations were largely criticized for targeting the ethnic Somali and Muslim communities.

Enforced disappearance is one form of security measure the Kenyan security forces use in their supposed quest for countering terrorism. The International Convention for the Protection of Persons against Enforced Disappearance defines this form as an ‘act of deprivation of liberty, refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or concealment of the fate and the whereabouts of the disappeared person and the placing of the person outside the protection of the law’.

Prior to writing this story I have contacted the Kenyan police on their Twitter handle to inquire and know their side of story.  Though the Twitter handle of the police is active, they have not responded to my inquiry at the time of going to press.

Of late, enforced disappearances appear to be increasing at an alarming rate. The number of people missing in Northern Kenya alone in a very short duration is alarming.

According to Abdikadir Ore, a lawmaker from Northern Kenya who is concerned about these increasing incidences and blames the state for most of the disappearances and for failing to even respond to these serious allegations brushing the important matter of citizens’ abductions under the vague banner of proof or evidence.

The Wajir west member of parliament says such daring exercise can only be executed by the state.  He cited an example when witnesses recorded the number plate of a car that forcefully took a citizen from Wajir town and enlisted the assistance of the concerned department to ascertain the validity of the number plate from their database and it turned out the registration number was invalid.

Kenyan counter-terrorism forces appear to be killing and disappearing people right under the noses of top government officials, major embassies, and the United Nations,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy director for Human Rights Watch’s Africa division.

Last week there was a screen-shot of a written paper which was circulating on social media. The paper written by the son of a 70 year old man who was abducted, was talking about how the incident unfolded.

‘‘Thugs claiming to be police pounced on him, cuffed him and shoved him into their double cabin pickup” reads part of the letter and goes on to explain how he and friends followed the thugs and chased them, over speeding to catch up while calling trying to seek help from the police.

Police responded to their distress calls and placed a road block and the suspect car was stopped. Shockingly said ‘’thugs” identified themselves to the police, showing their official identification documentations. They were police officers!

Few days ago another incident happened in Garissa where a young boy in his early 20s who was fixing a TV cable was approached by police and abducted. The police later claimed to have mistaken his TV cables for a bomb-making apparatus.

In most cases plain clothe officers carry out the abductions. They will forcibly put their suspect into a land cruiser and drive away. In one incident a leaked CCTV camera shows how an abduction incident unfolded. In a phones and accessories shop two men enter and pretend to be interested in buying accessories in the shop. After all the other clients are served and leave the premises, they grab the shop attendant and put him in their car.

The dreaded police unit, ATPU is the one in charge of counter-terrorism operations. The locals refer to them as the ‘’Terrorists police’’. It is alleged that they have carried out series of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Their victims are alleged to be suspects associated with terrorism but most of the time innocent citizens fall for their trap without an iota of evidence. They always carry their dreaded operations in the wee hours of the night, though in some incidences it is reported to be at broad day light.

With their face covered they descend and move away with their target. There moves are calculated and tracing them afterward is hard.  The victim in such a case is abducted, illegally detained and often tortured during interrogation; in some cases killed, and the body hidden. There are no traces of the perpetrators. In very rare cases victims get released. This happens by either giving a huge payoff to the senior officers who are the alleged masterminds of the operation or when the ‘ATPU boys’ find out the person they abducted was not their target.

In the rare cases where the abductees are released, they are affected physically and emotionally, traumatized by the torture they are subjected to. They are often warned against revealing their ordeal to the media. These stern warnings are also subtly directed at critics of these exercises and leads to an atmosphere of silence and disinformation. Such actions spread fear and hopelessness in the wider community and the families, who often unproductively spend the rest of their time searching for information on the disappeared, remain voiceless victims.

There appears to be no relief for the families of these victims as the authorities brush their ordeal under the carpet, refuse to acknowledge the whereabouts of loved ones even when the ‘suspects’ were taken to a police station and then disappeared. They disappear without trace and the onus of locating them alive or dead is on the families. This often creates suspicion between the security agencies and the citizens and leads to distrust losing vital information in its wake. Suspects are never produced in courts; no charges are brought against them and with wanton disregard of the laws governing such cases, voiceless citizens are suffering. This strengthens the hand of the enemies of peace and development, creates a ’them’ versus ‘us’ and the war against criminals and terrorists suffers in the end.

The authorities and the elected officials must come to the aid of families whose loved ones were disappeared, must compel agencies who are suspected to be involved in these extrajudicial activities to abide by the law and strive to improve the relationship between the citizens and security agencies in order to strengthen the fight against crimes and improve the quality of intelligence.

Fuad is a student of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Univeristy of Nairobi.


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