Emotions ran high in Garissa Town as the truth team opened its first public hearing at a school where hundreds of residents were detained and tortured by security forces 30 years ago.
Tears flowed as residents thronged the school on Monday, performing poems, songs and traditional dances depicting the injustices.
The military is accused of committing the atrocities against residents of Northern Kenya under the guise of fighting banditry and cattle-rustling.
Mr Dubat Amey, an elder who has served as Garissa council chairman, told the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission that the abuses were still fresh in the residents’ minds.
He said they were angry because various regimes had let recommendations by past commissions gather dust.
Pointing at the school’s playground where hundreds of residents were assembled in 1980 after a notorious bandit called Abdi Mathobe raided Garissa Town, killing security personnel and a district officer, Mr Amey said: “Because of an offence by one notorious bandit, we were detained here for 72 hours.
“When they told us the women would be freed, we thought it was out of sympathy, but we were shocked to hear they had been raped at gunpoint.”
Garissa mayor Mohamed Gabow told the commission that it would be a big mistake to invoke memories of the injustices and then do nothing.
“You must show that you are equal to the task. If not, we would rather you leave as it hurts to talk about the inhuman treatment,” he said.
He said some dates are associated with the horror like Silig Galay (when the residents were locked in meshed wire), Garissa Guway (when Garissa burnt) and Imigancy (when emergency law was introduced).
He also urged the commission to address current issues like identity cards and security checkpoints, which, he said, still discriminated against Northern Kenya residents.
Acting TJRC chairperson Tecla Namachanja said the hearings are based on 30,000 statements and 600 memoranda recorded from September 2010.
She said Northern submitted the highest number of statements, with 6,000 statements of extrajudicial killings, rape and other violations.
Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo said in a statement read on his behalf that the commission will record historical human rights violations and identify and recommend prosecution of those responsible of the abuses.