Kenya: Foreign agents conducting secret 'war on terror' interrogations in Kenya's 'crackdown' on terrorism

The allegations are made in a new report published by Amnesty International today (23 March), which looks at human rights violations committed as part of Kenya’s ‘crackdown’ on terrorism since the bombing of a hotel near Mombassa in 2002 which killed 15 people.

The human rights organisation is calling on the Kenyan authorities to take immediate action to halt human rights violations during “anti-terrorism” operations.

Almost all those interviewed by Amnesty International said they were interviewed by foreign agents, and the Kenyan media has also reported US, Israeli and British agents coming to Kenya to “help beef up security” during the investigations after the hotel bombings.

The detainees reported to Amnesty that the foreign agents sometimes conducted the interviews with neither Kenyan officials nor lawyers present, violating international standards, and that they were regularly threatened by these agents.

One detainee said:

"On the sixth day, foreigners joined the Kenyan interrogators. They were from three different countries… I refused to speak and I said I needed a lawyer.

"The foreigner told me no member of my family or lawyer would come to the place where I was and that it was in my interest to answer their questions. Another threatened me that if I did not speak, they would take me to Guantanamo Bay.

"On the next day, the foreigners came again. They continued interrogating me. They threatened me…. They did not allow me to sleep for two days. One of the foreigners told me he would bring my mother and my wife there. I had no lawyer, no contact with my family or with the outside world."

The report, Kenya: The impact of "anti-terrorism" operations on human rights, which is based on interviews carried out in Kenya with former detainees, families of suspects, human rights activists and lawyers, also includes details of wide-ranging human rights violations committed by the Kenyan authorities during its "anti-terrorism" operations. These include:

  • the use of torture and other ill-treatment during detention
  • the detention of suspects without charge in undisclosed locations and without access to a lawyer or relatives
  • the holding of suspects in degrading and unsanitary conditions without access to medical care when needed
  • harassment of family members and the arbitrary detention of relatives to put pressure on suspects to hand themselves in

The wife of a "terrorist" suspect, who was herself interviewed by Kenyan police, reported to Amnesty International:

"During interrogation, they told me that if I did not speak the truth, they would beat me up. All they wanted to know was where my husband was and I did not know. At a certain moment, they actually started beating me with wooden sticks on my legs, my knees and the soles of my feet.

"A woman police officer carried out the beating. The next day I could not walk and had fever. I asked to be brought to the hospital, but they refused to take me."

Amnesty International Kenya researcher Sheila Keetharuth said:

"States have a duty to protect their populations from violent criminal acts, but this duty is not a licence to torture and abuse suspects in secret locations and harass their families.

"The Kenyan authorities have failed to comply with international human rights law and standards, as well as Kenyan law. Security and human rights go hand in hand, and are not alternative options."

Amnesty International is calling on the Kenyan authorities to ensure respect for the rights of anyone arrested or detained, according to international law and standards.

In particular, detainees must be given prompt access to legal counsel, relatives and medical care if needed, and any allegations of torture or other ill-treatment must be fully and independently investigated.

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