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Wagalla massacre was a crime against humanity

Tuesday February 9 2010

By BILLOW KERROW

TODAY IS THE 25th ANNIVER-sary of the Wagalla massacre in which an estimated 3,000 people were butchered by State security personnel in Wajir, in an operation ostensibly meant to disarm them.

As we remember this horrific history, we seldom reflect on the legality of the security operation and the culpability of the senior people who ordered this act of genocide.

I say this because the government still pursues the same policy of collective punishment and brutality in disarming warring clans in the region.

In the ongoing disarmament operation in Isiolo, the minister for Internal Security and his permanent secretary have threatened dire consequences if residents do not surrender illegal arms.

NEWS REPORTS INDICATE THAT MA- ny residents took their daughters out of the area for fear of rape by the security forces. It has happened before.

Leaders pleaded with the State to be humane in carrying out the operation, fearful of the brutality that may follow the end of the amnesty period.

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In April last year, Human Rights Watch published a special report on the security operation conducted by the security forces in October 2008 in Mandera titled “Bring The Gun, Or You Will Die”, in which it reveals ‘‘over 1,200 people wounded, one man dead and at least a dozen women raped’’.

The report exposed the use of ‘‘torture, rape and other serious human rights violations’’ against the residents ‘‘bordering on crimes against humanity’’.

The Wagalla massacre was preceded by similar atrocities committed by security forces in Bulla Karatasi, Garissa, in 1980 and Malka Mari in Mandera in 1981, in a disarmament operation in which hundreds were killed, maimed, tortured and raped by those expected to protect them.

The Shifta war atrocities of 1963-67 remained buried because of the 1970 Indemnity Act that protects its perpetrators. And justice has remained elusive as some of the masterminds of these crimes remain at large.

In May 2009, the Kenya Human Rights Commission published a report titled Foreigners at Home: The Dilemma of Citizenship in Northern Kenya on official discrimination and violation of citizenship rights, particularly among the Somali community.

It revealed a systematic process of denial, and incarceration of Somalis in obtaining identity cards and passports, and gross violation of their basic human rights, including official marginalisation in development.

In 1989, the government introduced the discriminatory screening of Somalis to verify those who are Kenyans and issued them with the infamous ‘‘pink cards’’. Hundreds were stripped of their citizenship and deported to Somalia.

Last year, the government suspended the issue of identity cards in North Eastern Province without valid reasons, but resumed months later after announcing new draconian vetting conditions for applicants.

Recently, the government ordered the Provincial Administration to audit Somali-owned properties in Nairobi to determine their source of wealth.

Shortly afterwards, it ordered a countrywide crackdown on illegal immigrants, targeting the Somali community including those with or without identity papers. As in the 1989 screening, the burden of proof of citizenship is on the arrested individual.

IN RECENT WEEKS, SOME GOVERNM-ent officials have claimed that the recent census of residents of North Eastern was falsified because the population was higher than expected.

It is inexcusable that 46 years after independence, the government continues to screen its Somali citizens or doubt the validity of their identity documents, and institutionalise discrimination and ethnic profiling.

Unmoved by the Wagalla tragedy, it unleashes collective punishment and other repressive measures that epitomises brutality, and creates a sense of statelessness among residents of North Eastern.

It is time the government changed course in its treatment of Somalis.

Mr Kerrow is a former MP for Mandera Central.

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