By STANDARD ON SATURDAY TEAM and AGENCIES
KENYA: The climate of hate festering in Nairobi’s Eastleigh Estate is clear from one woman’s account of an alleged gang rape at the hands of three city police officers.
The 34-year-old mother of four (name withheld) claims she was singled out over her ethnicity and refugee status and attacked shortly after the November 18 grenade attack on a Kariobangi-bound Route 28 matatu. Her story, true or not, illustrates the difficult relationship Somalis have with the Kenya police.
“I was walking home on Fourth Street (one evening) when three regular police officers — one woman and two men — stopped me,” the woman says. “I showed them my refugee documents and they just attacked me.”
Speaking to New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on February 4, this year, the woman says the unidentified female officer led the verbal attack and helped her colleagues abduct and rape her.
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“The woman grabbed my breasts and shoulders and tried to lift my veil,” she recalled. “Then she pushed me into a ditch by the roadside. All three hit and kicked me and tore at my clothes. The woman was shouting ‘You are a prostitute’ and ‘You are all Al Shabaab’. They put me in their car and we drove off. It was dark so I do not know where we were. When we stopped, the woman and one of the men got out and left me with the other man. He hit my legs with his truncheon and slapped me. Then he raped me. When he finished he got out of the car and the other man got in and raped me.”
When the alleged sexual assault was over, the three police officers drove around for some time with the woman in the car. They then stopped the vehicle, shouted at their victim to get out and just drove away.
The incident was apparently sparked by police anger at the Eastleigh attack as well as continuing killings of officers in Garissa, Mandera and other parts of Northern Kenya. Seven people were killed and more than 30 seriously injured. Dozens more were injured in days of ethnic riots that followed.
HRW researchers say they have documented at least 50 such cases of torture and sexual assault against Somali and Ethiopian refugees as well as Somali Kenyans. They claim more than 1,000 Somalis were abused in Nairobi late last year in a “ten-week rampage” against refugees and asylum seekers.
Seven interviewees told HRW police raped them in their homes, on side streets, on wasteland and, in some cases, with children close by. Others described how police beat, kicked and punched them — including women and children — causing serious injury and long-term pain.
Ms Ubah Abdi Warsame, 32, speaking to a reporter about the assaults, says police from the paramilitary General Services Unit were behind the worst violence.
“We had gotten used to paying small bribes,” the mother of five says. “But when they started searching houses, beating Somalis and taking them to the cells, it was terrifying. I have nightmares because of the beatings I got.”
Witnesses identify the officers involved in the crackdown as coming from the GSU, Regular Police, Administration Police and Criminal Investigations Department. No terrorists were arrested in the crackdown but hundreds of illegal aliens were detained or forced to flee the capital.
Police deny any of the incidents reported to HRW took place. Responding to the release of the report in which the claims were made, acting spokesman Charles Owino dismissed it as “pedestrian” and intended to cause needless tensions by “just giving stories” about a successful police operation. AP spokesman Masoud Mwinyi dismissed claims of 1,000 victims as “unlikely”.
HRW has put out four reports in the last four years documenting police abuse of Somali refugees. Each has been received with the same dismissive attitude. The latest document, released on Wednesday, says women and children were among the victims of the unprecedented crackdown. Police officers also arrested and charged hundreds of Eastleigh residents with public order offences without any evidence, before the courts ordered their release.
“One motivation for the abuses appeared to be retaliation for some 30 attacks on law enforcement officials and civilians by unknown perpetrators in Kenya since October 2011,” the HRW report notes. “To date only one person — a (non-Somali) Kenyan — has been convicted for one of the attacks.”
Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, from Busia, was jailed for life in October last year after being linked to the grenade attacks. An accomplice from Migori, Felix Otuko, was shot dead in Kasarani less than two weeks ago. Both were converts to Islam late in life and had become radicalised through contact with terrorists.
HRW says the abuse in the 50 cases involving rape and serious violence amounts to torture under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The group called on the Government to investigate the abuses and discipline those responsible. Simpson added that refugees in Nairobi are living in fear.
“There is clearly anticipation of further violence if Kenya’s leaders decide they want to move people from the cities or… back to Somalia,” he said.
Many refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and elsewhere have lived in Nairobi for decades where they can own businesses, attend school or receive medical treatment. None of these opportunities are readily available in the refugee camps, which are severely overcrowded and lack basic services. The Dadaab camps are currently home to more than 500,000 people fleeing Al Shabaab violence and famine in Somalia. The Government has repeatedly said it would like the Somali refugees to return home as soon as possible.