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Human Rights Watch has accused the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Unit of committing acts of human rights abuse

NAIROBI — Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found evidence that the western-backed Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in Kenya has carried out extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and mistreated terror suspects in custody. The rights group has demanded donors to the ATPU to suspend their support to the unit.

Leslie Lefkow, the deputy director of the African division of HRW has said, “Kenyan counter-terrorism forces appear to be killing and disappearing people right under the noses of top government officials, major embassies, and the United Nations. This horrendous conduct does not protect Kenyans from terrorism – it simply undermines the rule of law.”

HRW has reported that in their research conducted between November 2013 and June 2014, they found at least 10 cases of killings, 10 enforced disappearances and 11 cases of mistreatment of terror suspects whilst in custody.

The researchers found that terror suspects were publicly killed, abducted from courtrooms, beaten whilst in custody and denied access to lawyers or family members. This information came from 22 interviews with victims, family members, lawyers, police officers, imams, journalists and witnesses.

The ATPU was created in 2003 in response to an attack on the US embassy in Nairobi and others in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Since then, terrorist attacks by the Somali-based terrorist group Al-Shabab have been steadily on the increase in Kenya. In 2013, armed men suspected to be associated with Al-Shabab attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing 67 people and injuring hundreds.

This is not the first time that research has highlighted human rights abuses by the anti-terrorist unit. In 2013, the Open Society Justice Initiative and a Mombasa-based non-governmental organisation, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), released a report revealing extrajudicial killings and disappearances in connection to the unit since 2007 in Mombasa. This report says that the ATPU, although having been credited by the Kenyan government for thwarting numerous plots and apprehending terrorists has “committed a wide array of human rights abuses that violate international, regional, and domestic law”.

The ATPU receives much of its funding from the US and UK. According to a 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service, the US provided $19 million to the unit in 2012 alone. Officials from Kenya, the US or the UK have not yet responded to this recent HRW report.

— Olivia Thomas, Correspondent (Africa)

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