August 10, 1971 is a date that the nationalist population of Northern Ireland recalls with ease and anger.
On that fateful morning, British soldiers rounded up 342 young men and detained them without trial on suspicion of being members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
By 1975 that figure had risen to 2,000 detained under a Special Powers Emergency Act that was an exact replica of legislation passed in Kenya in the so-called Emergency.
The British Government declared it was ‘at war with terrorism’ but the indigenous population believed that the State was declaring war on their community and consequently IRA membership increased tenfold overnight.
After the recent killings in Garissa, 700 extra police were dispatched to North Eastern Province. The press reported that 83 suspects were subsequently arrested but never told us what became of them.
Thereafter the clamour to fast-track the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2012 began.
One gets the distinct impression that the Bill could be rushed through Parliament to appease the Western powers and the public and thereby act as a ploy to cover up for the failings of the National Security Intelligence Service and the security services.
Put another way, we could quickly lose overnight all the gains of a human rights culture and the rule of law so clearly spelt out in the Bill of Rights chapter in the Constitution.
Parliament should not support any Bill that violates constitutionally guaranteed rights regarding due process and the right to not be tortured.
There can be no justification for torture, illegal detention, renditions or violation of basic rights even if we are informed it is the interests of national security. In other words, we must not allow a culture of fear and panic to trump over human rights.
There have been a number of shocking incidents that have led to the loss of innocent lives, but does this justify derogation of human rights or the declaration of a state of emergency?
Surely the best weapon to defeat crimes of this nature is intelligence and not brute force. We do not want a repeat of the Wagalla Massacre.
Besides, anti terrorism legislation usually leads to discrimination against particular religions or ethnic communities. Yet, recall that most of the suspects in the recent grenade attacks have not come from traditional Islamic communities.
There is no universally agreed definition of terrorism, so it is at the discretion of each State to define it. That is very dangerous.
George Bush’s war on terrorism gave rise to Iraq and Afghan invasions as well as to Guantanamo Bay. Those two wars led to the loss of 132,000 civilian lives. Is that the model of ‘war on terror’ that Kenya wishes to follow or is being bullied into supporting?
Torture and erosion of the rule of law lead to further violence and crime as shown in Northern Ireland, Iraq and elsewhere. It also leads to a corruption of democratic institutions.
The State has a responsibility to protect, but intelligence is the way to do it, for human rights violations erode the very national security that they pretend to enhance.