Leta Siasa

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

IPS Story by Joyce Mulama: Controversial Law to Sail Through?

Give Rights Precedence Over Realpolitik - NGOs
Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Sep 6 (IPS) - Human rights groups in Kenya have expressed fears that a controversial piece of anti-terrorism legislation may be pushed through, in the wake of complaints by the United States and Britain that the country's efforts to clamp down on terrorism are unsatisfactory.

The draft 'Suppression of Terrorism Bill', first put forward in 2003, was withdrawn last year following widespread criticism.

Amnesty International says it is concerned by the law's "vague and broad definition" of terrorism and terrorist acts, and the wide-ranging powers it gives authorities to search and detain persons in connection with terrorist activities. Under the proposed legislation, police would have the power to arrest people and conduct searches without a warrant.

Amnesty has also condemned the bill's "denial of the right to legal representation during interrogation", and other aspects of the proposed law. The bill makes provision for suspects to be held incommunicado for some time after their arrest.

Reports indicate that Kenyan authorities now wish to re-introduce the legislation. This follows U.S. and Israeli criticism of a Kenyan court's decision to release seven persons implicated in a November 2002 attack on a hotel near the coastal resort of Mombasa -- which claimed 16 lives. (The ruling was handed down in June.)

The suicide bombing of the Israeli-owned hotel coincided with an attempted missile attack on an Israeli aircraft taking off from Mombasa's airport. Three other persons detained in connection with the matter were acquitted earlier this year after the state failed to provide sufficient evidence against them.

Kenya was previously the victim of a terrorist attack in August 1998, when the American embassy in the capital, Nairobi, was bombed -- resulting in over 250 deaths. Almost simulataneously, the U.S. embassy in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam came under attack. The 1998 and 2002 incidents have been linked to al-Qaeda, the global terrorist network.

British officials have also spoken out concerning Kenya's approach to terrorism.

"I think Kenya acknowledges that the current legislation is less than adequate," Deputy High Commissioner to Kenya Ray Kyles told IPS. "We will support any measures which will strengthen Kenyan legislation to fight terrorism. We have had discussions on this with this government since it came to power (in December 2002)."

Two attacks were launched on the public transport system of the British capital, London, in July. The first, on Jul. 7, resulted in the death of about 50 people.

The second, unsuccessful attack took place Jul. 21. Two of the men arrested in connection with this incident have links with East Africa: 24-year-old Yassin Hassan Omar emigrated to Britain from Somalia at the age of 11, while Ibrahim Muktar Said -- 27 -- came from Eritrea in 1992, when he was 14.

Rights groups are apprehensive that Kenya's response to criticism of its record on terrorism might translate into a quick passage for the Suppression of Terrorism Bill as it currently stands.

"We are wary of the possibility of the government responding to the utterances of Britain and the U.S. without taking into consideration the human rights violations in the bill," said Ekitela Lokaale, programme officer at the Research and Advocacy Unit of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Noted Mbugua Kaba of the Nairobi-based NGO People Against Torture, "We forwarded our recommendations for consideration by the government and we are now waiting for the redrafted version."

"We will scrutinise it and see if it is satisfactory. If not, we will shout again."

Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are presently conducting a joint exercise in counter-terrorism, in Nairobi. The operation, named 'Trend Marker', is being held under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC) -- a regional organisation that groups the three countries.

Reports indicate that the drill is intended to help develop what the EAC secretariat describes as "standard operating procedures" for combating terrorism. Plans are also afoot to set up a joint information and intelligence network which will monitor terrorist activities in the region.

More than 150 people are said to be taking part in the exercise, which is drawing in officials from a range of government departments who may come in contact with terrorist suspects.

While Kenya and Tanzania have been the target of attacks, concerns are frequently expressed about the extent to which Somalia (another of Kenya's neighbouring states) could serve as a base for international terrorists.

The country collapsed into lawlessness in 1991 after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled by tribal militias, who later divided the country into rival fiefdoms. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have lost their lives in the ongoing conflict that has plagued their country -- and the famine which this violence helped create.

A new Somali government was formed last year in Kenya. However, the administration has been unable to establish control of Somalia's capital -- Mogadishu -- which is still in the hands of faction leaders. It is feared that terrorists could take advantage of the disarray to use the country as a base of operations. (END/2005)