Kenya: Somalis scapegoated in counter-terror crackdown

Kenya’s Somali community is being scapegoated in a counter-terror operation which has seen thousands subjected to arbitrary arrest, harassment, extortion, ill-treatment, forcible relocation and expulsion, Amnesty International said today.

In a new Briefing Paper Amnesty International documents a disturbing wave of serious human rights violations suffered by Kenya’s Somali community since a security crackdown – known as ‘Operation Usalama Watch’ – began in early April 2014.

“It appears that ‘Operation Uslama Watch’ is being used as a pretext for the blanket punishment of the Somali community in Kenya. They have become scapegoats with thousands arrested and ill-treated, forcibly relocated and hundreds unlawfully expelled to a war-torn country,” said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Regional Director for Eastern Africa at Amnesty International.

“Whilst Kenya has legitimate national security concerns, the wholesale targeting of an already marginalized and vulnerable community is an appalling breach of national and international law. We call on the Kenyan government to immediately end human rights violations against Somalis, including refugees, ensure their protection, and provide redress where violations have occurred.”

The Kenyan authorities began mass round-ups of Somalis following two attacks in March which killed and injured scores of people. A lack of transparency and due process has meant that the exact number of those arrested and those still in detention remains unclear. However, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Joseph Ole Lenku is quoted as stating that more than 4,000 people were arrested in the first week of the operation alone.

Amnesty International is not aware of a single Somali arrested during this operation who has been charged with terrorism-related offences.Those detained have in many cases been held for days in unsanitary conditions in overcrowded cells and at a football stadium without food or access to lawyers. In one case Amnesty International was told how a baby died after being left unattended at home for three days whilst her mother was in detention. Access to detainees by organizations such as UNHCR has been extremely limited.

Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of beatings, intimidation, extortion and sexual harassment at the hands of security forces during search operations. The organization has been told about one woman who went into shock and later died in hospital after security forces tried to force their way into her apartment. Amnesty International has also been told about two other cases where young children have died as a result of the security crackdown.

More than 1,000 Somalis have been forcibly relocated to overcrowded, insecure refugee camps in northern Kenya. Those sent to the camps include children separated from their parents and breast-feeding women separated from their infants.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Somalia, 359 Somalis have been expelled from Kenya, including at least three registered refugees. Many of those expelled had alien cards, or claimed that their refugee or alien documents were confiscated or destroyed following arrest. The expulsion of refugees and asylum seekers to a country such as Somalia, where there is a risk that their life or freedom would be threatened, beaches the principle of non-refoulement, a cornerstone principle of refugee protection.

“Kenya is violating its own constitution and international law by subjecting the Somali community to unlawful expulsions and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under the guise of its counter-terror operation, ‘Usalama Watch’,” said Michelle Kagari.

“In Swahili the word ‘usalama’ means ‘security’. This backlash against Kenya’s Somali community is not going to help make Kenya more secure. We call on the Kenyan authorities to comply with their international legal obligations and the requirements of their own constitution, to respect human rights and to restore usalama for Kenya’s Somali community.”


‘Operation Usalama Watch’ began soon after attacks in Mombasa and Eastleigh, a predominantly Somali neighbourhood of Nairobi, in March. On 4 April, security forces locked down Eastleigh and began indiscriminately rounding up thousands of people. The operation initially focused on the Somali community, including refugees and asylum-seekers. Whilst there have been arrests of Kenyan nationals, refugees of other nationalities, undocumented foreigner nationals and NGO workers, the operation has disproportionately focused on the Somalis.

The publication of this briefing coincides with a hearing date for a class-action petition filed by nine members of the Eastleigh Community Association on behalf of over 500 others.

The majority of those expelled have been Somalis. Amnesty International is aware of 28 expulsions of Ethiopians, and six Ugandan asylum-seekers who were arrested and returned to Uganda.