US Embassy Press assistant Jessica Neatherlin is helped to set up an online link to Washington on May 14, 2014. Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield made an online press conference touching on terrorist attacks in Nigeria and Kenya. PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI NATION MEDIA GROUP
The US has expressed “strong concerns” on the way Kenya has been conducting a crackdown on suspected Al-Shabaab sympathisers.
In an online press conference, US Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Wednesday that her country had told Kenya government officials to change tack in their handling of the operation to avoid mistreating innocent people.
“We know that Kenya has experienced some horrendous terrorist attacks, and we want to work with the Kenyan government to ensure that we address the incidents of terrorism, and we know terrorism in Kenya affects all of us,” she told reporters.
“That said, we have expressed our strong concerns to the government of Kenya. You know what our views are, on human rights violations. We will continue to express those concerns whenever we see evidence of human rights violations being committed.”
Kenya which has been on the receiving end of attacks suspected to be masterminded by the Al-Shabaab last month embarked on a security operation to weed out illegal immigrants and return refugees to the camps.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku believes most of refugees and immigrants are sympathisers of the militants.
The Operation Usalama Watch also affected Kenyans found without national identification documents.
On Wednesday, Ms Greenfield said of the Kenyan operation: “In order to deal with terrorism, there has to be two-pronged approach. There is a military side of it and there is also a side of it that is involved in dealing with the population in a free and fair and transparent way so that people understand what is going on and do not become victims of both terrorism and the government.”
The statement came a day after global lobby group Human Rights Watch released a report criticising Kenyan security agencies for harassing people in the crackdown.
“Kenyan police and security forces are using abusive and discriminatory tactics in the name of national security, targeting entire communities,” Human Rights Watch Africa Director Daniel Bekele said.
“This crackdown clearly violates basic rights of Kenyans, refugees, and other foreign nationals and does nothing to improve security.”
The group charged that the police had been raiding homes, looting people’s property, extorting residents and detained thousands including Kenyans without taking them to court. The police denied the charge.
Ms Thomas-Greenfield was addressing journalists based in Africa on “US Commitment to sub-Saharan Africa” to take stock of the recent trip by Secretary of State John Kerry. The US is also expected to host a summit with African leaders in August, but has ruled out inviting leaders from Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Egypt, Guinea Bissau, CAR and Sudan.
“There are some leaders not invited because they are either not in good state with the AU because they have had coups — Egypt is one of those countries, Central Africa Republic is one of those countries and Guinea Bissau is another — Or they are countries that are not in good standing with the United States either because we have sanctioned them or we do not have a bilateral relationship with them and you know what those countries are: Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Sudan.”
“We are looking forward to a dialogue with the African leaders. We have in fact consulted across the continent and to get issues they would like us to focus on. So we will be focusing on peace and security, we will be focusing on democracy and governance and we will be focusing on trade and development as well.”
On security, Al-Shabaab, South Sudan and Boko Haram kept popping up.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his nemesis Riek Machar signed a peace deal last Friday but Mr Kiir later claimed they had been forced into it. The US yesterday denied it had a hand in “forcing anyone to sign”.
“There was no forcing that took place here,” she said.