On December 20th, the head of Kenya’s National Police Service issued a report about the country’s 2013 crime rate. The good news was that crime rates had fallen by 8 percent compared to the previous year. Inspector General David Kimaiyo attributed the decrease to what he called “public cooperation with the police and the increased police mobility.” He even introduced the notion of “community policing” – a popular model based on engagement and partnership between the police and the community.
According to the report, economic crimes decreased by 21 percent, theft of livestock by 17 percent and offenses against persons by 7 percent. The bad news, however, was an increase in some crimes, such as robbery (10 percent), homicide (6 percent), rape (22 percent) vehicle and other thefts (3 percent) and robbery with violence by 9 percent. There were also 509 incidents of mob injustice in 2013. The terrorist group Al-Shabaab killed 111 persons, 71 of whom died during the Westgate Mall bombing.
But the police report was remarkable in what it failed to mention: extrajudicial killings. Kenyan human rights organizations have criticized the government for sponsoring such crimes. In November 2013, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and the George Soros-funded Open Society Initiative issued a report titled, ‘We Are Tired of Taking you to Court: Human Rights Abuses by Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit’, that concluded the Kenyan government was running a police death squad that targets suspects with links to terror groups.
Most of the extrajudicial killings take place, according to the report, in the heavily Muslim populated city of Mombasa which has become a hotbed for Al-Shabaab recruitment. In 2012, Sheikh Aboud Rogo, a cleric on the US and UN sanctions list for providing “financial, material, logistical or technical support for Al-Shabaab” was killed in the streets of that city. In October 2013, Sheikh Ibrahim Omar was also shot dead in Mombasa after allegations of involvement with the Westgate Mall bombing. More than 20 others met the same fate in 2013 or simply disappeared. According to the report, a Kenyan police officer told a detainee, “We are tired of taking you to the court. Next time, we will finish you off in the field.”
The government resorts to these unlawful killings, according to human rights groups, when it is unable to build a strong case against terror suspects. These groups have asked both the United Kingdom and the US governments to suspend aid to the Ant-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) due to its direct involvement with these unlawful killings. The unit receives training and funding from Washington and London. This elite counter-terrorism unit has regularly arrested suspects but the number of terrorists convicted in courts remains dismal.
The Kenyan government denies that it is culpable for extrajudicial killings. The usual government response has been that the suspects died in a gun battle due to intra-rivalries (for good effect, the police display weapons to the mass media), that rogue political officers are the ones to blame, or, in the case of disappearances, the suspects simply fled to Somalia. A radical cleric in Mombasa has in fact lamented, “The government is murdering us.”
Extrajudicial Killings are not new in Kenya. In 2008, a government-funded group, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, issued a report, “The Cry of Blood,” that identified police as responsible for the killings and disappearance of more than 500 young men. The report classified these extrajudicial killings as crimes against humanity because they deprived the victims of all due process.
The general view among human rights groups is that the extrajudicial killings, instead of stemming the tide of religious radicalism, alienate many Muslims who could otherwise serve as partners in the war against terror. As Jonathan Horowitz of the Open Society and the co-author of the group’s report has argued “[The ATUP’s conduct] has eroded the rule of law in Kenya and created distrust between the public and police, creating conditions which can provide fuel for terrorists.”
That is, after all, what Inspector General Kimaiyo has been advocating: community policing.
Hassan M. Abukar is a freelance writer and political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.