Kenyan military chiefs are back in the spotlight following fresh revelations of massive human rights violations and what has been termed as war crimes during a recent operation to flush out suspected rebels.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed in a new report the disappearance of some 50 men and children from the Mount Elgon region in the western region of Kenya, during a security operation to flush out suspected rebels, who have also been accused of war crimes.
The HRW is also advocating the suspension of military assistance to the Kenyan military from both the British and the American governments until the alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes are investigated.
Speaking at a news conference here, Ben Rawlence, a Researcher with HRW, said only an independent investigation carried out by a panel that does not report directly to the chief of police or the defence minister would absolve the forces.
The rights group said what started off as a rag-tag militia to oppose the removal of certain ethnic communities from the forested Mount Elgon region, near Kenya’s western border with Uganda, rose to become a full-fledged internal rebellion, considered an armed conflict.
Kenya’s military, according to HRW, has been carrying out a secret army operation, concealed under the guise of a normal security operation for months to avoid political scrutiny of its activity, but went full-blast after the disputed elections in December.
The operation was aimed at flushing out the suspected members of the Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF), a rag-tag militia which grew in strength to the extent of challenging the army to a series of war games in the mountainous region.
The militia group is blamed for the wanton killing of at least 600 people, torture and the kidnapping of women.
The group tortured, killed and maimed anybody opposed to its political ideology and its opponents.
According to the HRW report, released here Monday, the SLDF collected taxes from the population around Mt Elgon and effectively ran a parallel administration, punishing civilians by cutting off their ears and sewing up their mouths if they defied orders.
“They used to operate in broad daylight, not under the cover of the night. They would stop you and say, hey, we want Ksh100, 000 (US$1,500) before nightfall, if you did not give them, they come for you,” a local human rights official said.
Police and the military are accused of having killed, kidnapped and tortured men around Mt Elgon by rounding off entire populations of people suspected to be friendly or sympathetic to the group and failing to offer adequate civilian protection.
According to documented episodes, the military routinely tortured victims, some of who later died in the military camps, but whose bodies were later dumped in the thick forest.
The suspects were ‘screened’ by walking them past military and police informers who were to decide whether they were members of the illegal militia.
The screening, HRW said, took place after the torture, done using rifles, sticks and chains.
Bodies seen at the local mortuaries by the HRW investigators showed signs of torture, mostly at the Kapkota camp, with victims having broken bones, bruises, swollen soft tissue and rope burns around the wrists and feet. Panapress .