The government has credited the country’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) with thwarting dozens of terrorist plots, and arresting or killing dozens of terrorist suspects, in an ostensibly robust counterterrorism response, the report says. “But, in carrying out its work, the ATPU has committed a wide array of human rights abuses that violate international, regional, and domestic law.”
The report, titled “We’re Tired of Taking You to the Court”: Human Rights Abuses by Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit”, is based on more than 40 interviews of affected and/or knowledgeable respondents. The study was conducted by Open Society Foundations.
It recommends that at a time when Kenya is undertaking sweeping police reforms aimed at ensuring the police do not have unlimited powers, the ATPU, which sits within the Kenya Police, must receive greater scrutiny and oversight.
“ATPU officials must be held accountable for their human rights abuses, and victims must receive reparations. In addition, the new police reforms that have been signed into law must be urgently implemented.”
This report traces ATPU abuses from 2007 when it was formed to the present. The abuses include the use of excessive force during house raids; torture and ill-treatment of detainees; arbitrary detentions, including disappearances; and rendering terrorist suspects to countries where they face a real risk of torture.
One of the clearest examples of ATPU human rights abuses documented in the report stemmed from a November 13–14, 2012 operation in Mombasa, during which the unit captured several suspects and beat them prior to bringing them to various police stations. Eventually, all the charges filed against these individuals were dropped due to a lack of evidence.
The report also documents detailed allegations that the ATPU physically abused Swaleh Abdullah Said, a man captured in Mombasa on suspicion of terrorist-related activities, including the Westgate Shopping Mall attack. Also, in 2012 and 2013, several terrorist suspects went missing or were killed.
The Kenyan government has denied any wrongdoing, saying that either it was not involved in the disappearances and killings or that it killed terrorist suspects lawfully.
The report, however, documents the disappearance of Badru Mramba in November 2012, and lays out evidence implicating the Kenyan government, and the ATPU specifically. There are allegations of the ATPU using unlawful lethal force on Omar Faraj and extrajudicial executions by the ATPU of Kassim Omollo and Salim Mohammed Nero.
In the cases where the government denies any involvement in the murder or disappearance of terrorist suspects, the government nonetheless has an obligation to conduct an effective investigation into who was responsible, the report says.
“The abuses documented here are part of the ATPU’s history of operating out- side the law. Although this report focuses primarily on abuses committed in Mombasa in 2012 and 2013, the ATPU’s broader pattern of rights violations extends back years earlier.”