Over the past several years, HAKI Africa’s time has been increasingly monopolised by what now feels like an epidemic of extrajudicial killings and disappearances perpetrated against Coastal Muslims. We have documented most of the best evidenced of these cases – 81 – in this report. There are many other cases we are currently investigating, but due to lack of sufficient evidence, they could not be included in this report.

Although most victims on our list are youths, there are also sheikhs, imams and preachers, some of them well over 50 years old. The common thread is that all victims are Muslims, all fall into a category of being perceived by authorities to be actual or potential terror suspects.

Most of the cases in this report started as complaints received at the organisation from the families of those killed or disappeared. The families report to HAKI Africa to seek our help in getting justice and finding their relatives. They always pose the same question to us on what they should do. Through the title of this report we are asking the government, security agencies and the Kenyan community at large “What should we tell the families?”.

Why should we care?

We are often asked, why should people care about the killings of people described as terror suspects? First of all, the label of “terror suspect”, although frequently deployed by the Kenyan state, is increasingly nebulous and ill-defined. In the minds of authorities and police already prejudiced against certain communities, “suspicion” is often not a neutral or objective term. Secondly, when we do not offer a just and legal means of redress for victims and their families, we leave them open and vulnerable to recruitment into criminal and terror groups which are usually very quick to offer solace for victims of perceived state excesses.

It is also important to understand that the extrajudicial killings and disappearances documented in this report come within a wider set of “iron fist” tactics long deployed by counterterrorism forces in Kenya, against an entire community. The combined effect of these tactics has resulted in many Coastal communities perceiving themselves to be victims of a form of collective punishment meted out by police and security agencies on behalf of the government.  This has eroded trust between community members and authorities, meaning that affected communities increasingly view those whose official function is to protect them from harm, as those who are most likely to flagrantly violate their rights.

Stuck between two fires

Many Muslims in Kenya are increasingly caught between two fires: the violence meted out indiscriminately by the security agencies, and the threat of violence by extremist groups against those who do not share their views. While it is not an element documented within this report, there have over the past several years been an increasing number of attacks by extremists in Kenya on Muslims who they believe to be apostates.

It is our belief that effective counterterrorism practices must involve truly supporting the wider Muslim community to deal effectively with the causes of extremism and radicalisation. This cannot involve systemic mistreatment and “othering” of an entire community by those in security authority. This is, I believe, both a moral and empirical fact. The rule of law and the rights enshrined in our Constitution must extend to all Kenyans, not simply because that is the right thing to do, but also because ultimately that will help ensure true security for all.

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Image by Boniface Mwangi