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Mass Arbitrary Arrests In Kenya - UNHCR fails to protect

Again Kenya security forces swept down with all their might and different units of regular and administration police - seconded by paramilitary anti-terrorism squads and plain-cloth police officers - on mostly innocent refugees in Eastleigh - that sprawling Nairobi suburb, where most of the urban refugees reside, who have been given permission to stay outside the overcrowded and dangerous camps in the north of the country.

File-picture: Police brutality during arrests is common in Kenya

Obviously under instructions from the Provincial Police Officer Anthony Kibuchi, the responsible officer for Pangani police station Chief Inspector Alois Orioki had received support in form of other police and security units from the wider Nairobi area to carry out the swoop and mass arrest.

When asked, the Kenyan police officers only say they "have been given orders from above" to root out any Al-Shabaab element in Kenya. Dehumanizing the targets PPO Kabuchi code-named this brutal police actions "Operation Fagia Wageni" (Operation sweep or mop up the foreigners) targeting those who do not have valid papers.  Like the dreaded police death squad - dubbed Kwekwe Squad (Kwekwe = weed) killed many innocent also "Fagia Wageni" creates more injustices than it is supposed to solve. Around 70-80% of those arrested in the nightly swoops of residence areas and public places never can be presented to the court, because their cases would be thrown out immediately.

Like public lynchings still are common in Kenya, the public has been incited over the last months to tolerate any state action against the so-called Al-Shabaab elements in the country.

But many of these now arrested refugees are themselves victims of Al-Shabaab, fled from Somalia, are legally protected in Kenya and - as special protection cases - can not go to the camps for fear of being persecuted and killed.

Having obviously been given free hand by unspecific orders from the higher echelons of the Kenyan internal security apparatus - now headed also by Kenya's Defense Minister Yusuf Haji after Internal Security Minister Prof. Saitoti was killed in a still mysterious helicopter crash - the low-ranks of the Kenyan armed forces come just crushing down on everybody during their swoops in order to show that "they are doing something".

Mass Arbitrary Arrests In Kenya - UNHCR fails to protectYusuf Haji (shown left), himself of Somali-Ogadeni ethnic background, has in the eyes of many now become the personification of evil - not only because he was and is as Minister of Defense at the core of the invasion and persistent occupation of Somalia by Kenyan armed forces under the helm of the commander-in-chief President Kibaki and his legally imposed sidekick Prime Minister Raila Odinga, but he is now also responsible for the internal war on the security front in Kenya. Since there is no improvement in that sector and the security has become worse, many states now have issued stern travel warnings to their nationals. A serious blow to the important tourism industry of Kenya. All the fault of Al-Shabaab? Many doubt this and see it to a large extent as self-inflicted.

Instead of containing the situation these falcons obviously only throw oil into the fire, which was kept burning by the injustices of the colonial days and continuing since the so-called independence of the country with documented horrible human rights abuses under former President Daniel Arap Moi as well as under the Kibaki regime during the last post-election violence.

The new constitution, which is supposed to end all that, is only implemented in small portions, with the constitutional courts being booked already for the next 20 years with pending and upcoming cases - if the whole system survives for so long.

Sleepless nights for victims as well as human rights defenders in Kenya

Human rights organizations working inMass Arbitrary Arrests In Kenya - UNHCR fails to protect Kenya received over the last weekend and yesterday night hundreds of phone-calls from distressed refugees, who were grabbed from their small homes or from little hotels and restaurants, where they had their meager late night supper of leftovers, or just from the road on their way home, and were bundled into waiting police and military lorries.

File-Picture: The infamous General Service Unit (GSU) is known for its merciless brutality against civilians.

The armed Kenyan security crushing the gates and doors did not care if those nabbed could produce and show them valid papers, which not only give them the right to stay and move freely where they were found, but actually give them also the protection of the Kenyan state as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But that is the legal theory - the sad reality is different.

At the Pangani police station alone, over one hundred victims of such arbitrary arrests spent the whole of last night standing, because there was no room for them to even sit in the totally over-crowded police cells. Anybody going down would have to fear to be trampled to death.

Almost fifty of them were brought this morning to the Makadara Law Courts in order to be produced in front of a judge, but there they met the backlog of many dozens others who had been nabbed in earlier swoops over the weekend and who are held at the already crammed remand prison in the industrial area of Nairobi. With 38 cases from last Friday still on the bench, and the Magistrate going for lunch, there was little hope for the newly arrested to be even heard today. As a matter of fact, the police officers manning the cells at the Makadara court tell relatives, who search for their missing next of kin, that many already were sent back by the court, because they can not be heard today. So far for the constitutionally enshrined law which stipulates that anybody arrested must be presented to a judge within 24h. Weekend and lunch time seem all to be arguments to not apply the law in Kenya.

Meanwhile friends and families are left standing to figure out by themselves to where the Kenyan authorities have taken those missing. With their own mobile phones confiscated and no opportunity provided for those arrested to inform anybody, such arbitrary arrests amount to abduction.

And this is how it is usually played:

  • The police units go out on a swoop and follow a blank order to arrest anybody who "could be" in the location illegally. This means they take anybody who appears to be weak and is not immediately protected by ten, fifteen bystanders or who would not be able to quickly pay his or her way out.
  • The OCS (Officer Commanding the specific police Station) makes sure that he (most are men) is not at the station when the arrested are brought in after nightfall. So nobody is there to verify or control if the arrests were made properly. This also triggers immediately a regulation that says the arrested can not be released overnight and before 06h00 in the morning without the authorization of the OCS - even if obviously a false arrest was made. The OCS stays nicely in bed at home. If the arrested persons fails to bring in someone with higher authority who gets them free or the individual is not able to bribe his or her way out before they are recorded with their details in the Occurrence Book (OB), they are in for a long night standing in the cell and for more until they are sometime, somewhere heard by a court.
  • Usually the swoops happened in the past always on Friday and Saturday nights, because the throats of the police officers are dry and thirsty at that time, and the arrested can then even be kept over the weekend before being produced in front of a court, Then there is more time for those doing the arrests to work the victims and get some money out of even the poorest and whisk the compliant person then aside and out to freedom - until the next time the get captured. The second reason for that pattern usually is that also the human rights organizations are on their weekend and can be reached only with difficulties, whereas the few on-call HR officers from the mere handful of dedicated organizations caring for these issues are simply overstretched with such mass arrests.

The UNHCR, whose actual duty it is to step in, is nowhere to be seen in all this. Though the world-community has specifically tasked the UNHCR to protect refugees and the UNHCR has received the money, the mandate and the diplomatic immunity to do that job properly, the specially designated "protection-unit" of UNHCR Nairobi is notoriously known for being inefficient, mostly just shoveling files and complaining about staffing. But - alas - UNHCR has even outsourced the care for people nabbed in such arbitrary arrests to Kenyan Human Rights (HR) NGOs, whom they call their "implementing partners", but who have in no way the legal rights or the international mandate the UNHCR carries. The HR NGOs in Kenya are themselves under permanent threats from the so-called security apparatus. The cases of illegally arrested and detained human rights lawyers and other human rights advocates as well as activists is already long.

UNHCR simply fails to do its job

With the regime of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) nowadays being invoked everywhere and especially when it fits the interests of the international community, humanity must find a new approach if the governments of those countries, who want to be seen as the "free world", don't want to stand accused of being mere hypocrites and fail to fulfill their duties set by the Charter of the United Nations.

File--picture: Somali youth arraigned at Kibera court after a previous mass arrest of about 400 Somali refugees in Nairobi.

The best solution in this context of human rights violations in developing countries is certainly not to create just another useless and bureaucratic UN body or to tweak the mandate of the the already existing, inefficient UN agencies, but to provide rights to independent human rights groups, who actually carry the duties and the burden anyway - as we see in Kenya. Surely such would not happen in the near future, because the multinational clan of those holding diplomatic immunity makes sure that nobody else gets into the noble club. A human rights activist equipped with diplomatic immunity is the nightmare of any despot and rogue state. But interestingly for the soldiers sent for example by the United States now into more and more African countries such exists. The African states, who receive US military aid, all sign on and consent to the US-American demand that their military personnel never will have to stand in front of for example a Kenyan court of law. Why the same is not applied to independent international human rights observers and activists, who are willing to stand on the side of the oppressed and innocent? Independent means here truly independent - also from the UN.

If now, for example, every foreign mission in Kenya would designate one of their protected diplomatic officers to second the work of individual and independent human rights groups in Kenya - the world for the innocent refugee victims and others would look differently immediately. But so far not a single embassy in Kenya has a dedicated HR officer, who would be not only permitted and willing but also tasked to go along when human rights activists have to approach corrupt Kenyan police stations in the middle of the night in order to secure the safety and well-being of the innocent. The foreign diplomats often enough don't even care when one of their own nationals is in trouble in Kenya. The case of Suad Mohamed, a Canadian woman illegally imprisoned and held captive until an international outcry caused attention and a DNA test did proof her innocence, is still not forgotten.

Mass Arbitrary Arrests In Kenya - UNHCR fails to protectSuch hostage taking by the state - as experienced by several hundred people in Kenya over the last four days - has to end. Most likely not one of those arrested during the last three nightly swoops in Nairobi can be held responsible or is in any far-fetched way even linked to the people who committed heinous crimes and horrible acts under the franchise name of Al-Shabaab.

Kenya is advised to respect internationally agreed human rights to the full extend and to not just focus on issues coming from across the Somali border but to also and even more intensely look into their own civil unrest situation and its root causes.

Terror on the innocent by the state produces the counter-force which then is carried by those who will be called terrorists. Is that wanted to keep the business of the "war-on-terror" going on in Kenya in order to keep the U.S. American money to "combat terror" coming? Kenyans seem not to realize that they ensnare themselves with such and in general subdue their own sovereignty under foreign masters again.

However, the Kenyan government hopes it will get away with it, since similar arbitrary arrests of several thousand young people during the last week inside Somalia, where Kenya rules now in conjunction with Uganda and Burundi as well as Ethiopia and Djibouti on the security front, were not even reflected by the international media, though local witness accounts and local journalist reports have been provided en mass.

Sending signals in form of such cross human rights violations - like the illegal mass-arrest of innocent youth or innocent, legally protected refugees - committed by the Somali or the Kenyan security forces - certainly transmits the wrong message to Al-Shabaab.

Because the whole issue will be only used by such radical groups to recruit more supporters against the given, experienced or perceived oppression.

- Horn News

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