KENYA: Claims of torture by army and militia, as food shortages grip Mt Elgon

Friday, May 16, 2008
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has called for an investigation into allegations of torture committed by security forces deployed in the clash-torn Mt Elgon district in western Kenya.

"In seeking to return sanity to the area as a result of the atrocities being committed in the area, the military should stop the excesses of the security forces deployed therein," the commission said on 15 May when it launched a report, The Mountain of Terror, which highlights some of the atrocities allegedly committed by the security forces and a militia group that has been active in the area since 2006.

The commission said it had written to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, urging her to recommend to the UN Security Council the suspension of Kenya's armed forces in any ongoing or future UN peacekeeping missions "on account of the violations".

However, the police denied the commission's allegations of torture by security officials. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said the police, instead, had evidence of acts of torture committed by Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) militiamen but these would only be released once the investigations were complete.

"We have details of the atrocities committed by this criminal gang but, for the security of the victims, we cannot release them to the press because the security operation is ongoing and investigations are not complete," Kiraithe said.

"So far, since the military operation started in the district, there has been only one case of murder reported," Kiraithe told IRIN. "The operation will continue because we are determined to rid the district of this criminal gang."

Land rights

The government deployed security forces - comprising the army and police - to Mt Elgon in March to quell an insurgency by the SLDF, which claims to be defending the land rights of the dominant Sabaot community in the district.

SLDF was formed to seek redress for alleged injustices during land distribution in the Chebyuk settlement scheme, with the conflict pitting two main clans of the Sabaot - Mosop (also known as Ndorobo) and Soy – against each other.

"The army intervention is proving to be counterproductive since it has actually participated in gross human rights violations in the area," KNCHR said. "Sources told the commission that the military torture members of the Sabaot community to death and those who survive are taken to the police station. Those who die are taken to Kamarang hill in Mt Elgon where it is alleged that they are buried en masse."


The commission said the nature of the injuries inflicted on suspected militiamen included sexual violence to genitals; being forced to torture each other (pulling each others' genitals and whipping each other); forced to witness torture by the military; food and sleep deprivation; broken arms and legs; submerging in sewage; hanging upside down from a moving helicopter; forced to crawl in razor wire; deep lacerations resulting from whip lashes; bullet wounds; forced to swallow sand; and powdered pepper inserted into women’s vaginas.

The commission said it was of the view that the use of force in the district had not elicited positive results and might have served to worsen the security situation.

"KNCHR further proposes that the government seeks to reach out to the militia in an effort to stop further bloodshed in the area," the commission said. "However, KNCHR believes there should be no amnesty for perpetrators of gross violations of human rights."

It also proposed that the government should come up with an acceptable formula of sharing out land between the Mosop (Ndorobo) and Soy, the two dominant clans of the Sabaot, "as opposed to an imposed formula that leads to fresh clashes".

The SLDF was formed in 2005 in a bid to resist government efforts to evict squatters from the Chebyuk settlement scheme in the district. KNCHR said the militia had, since 2006, been accused of killing at least 600 people and terrorising the community through physical assaults, threats and atrocities such as murder, torture, rape, theft and destruction of property. An estimated 66,000 people have been displaced over an 18-month period.

Food shortages

Meanwhile, many residents of the district are facing food shortages because of the military operation.

"Food availability, for many residents, is a problem given the ongoing military operation, which has an impact on the flow of food in markets as well as access to markets by both the locals and the traders," Anthony Mwangi, the public relations manager of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), told IRIN.

However, Mwangi said food distribution by KRCS was ongoing, targeting thousands of people. The society was distributing maize, beans, cooking oil and soap, he said.

"Both the displaced and those still in their homes are facing food shortages; but we are trying our best to intervene by distributing food, especially to the vulnerable," Col Yulu, the regional disaster preparedness and response officer for the KRCS, said.