Kenya's anti-terrorism bill raises concern

Published Sep 7, 2005


By Joyce Mulama

Nairobi - Human rights groups in Kenya have expressed fears that controversial 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 were unsatisfactory.

The draft Suppression of Terrorism Bill, first put forward in 2003, was withdrawn last year following widespread criticism.

Amnesty International said it was concerned by the law's "vague and broad definition" of terrorism and terrorist acts, and the wide-ranging powers it gave authorities to search and detain people in connection with terrorist activities.

Under the proposed legislation, police would have the power to arrest people and conduct searches without a warrant.

Amnesty 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 US and Israeli criticism of a Kenyan court's decision to release seven people implicated in the November 2002 attack on a hotel near the coastal resort of Mombasa where 16 people died.

In August 1998, Kenya became the victim of a terrorist attack when the American embassy in the capital, Nairobi, was bombed, resulting in over 250 deaths.

Almost simultaneously, another US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was also attacked. Both the 1998 and 2002 incidents were linked to al-Qaeda, a global terrorist network.

Senior British government officials have also spoken out on Kenya's approach to terrorism.

"I think Kenya acknowledges that the current legislation is less than adequate," said British Deputy High Commissioner to Kenya, Ray Kyles, whose own country recently became a victim of terrorism.

Over 50 people were killed when London's public transport was bombed on July 7.

Human rights have raised concerns that criticism of Kenya's response to terrorism might result in the quick passage of 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 US without taking into consideration the human rights violations in the bill," said Ekitela Lokaale, programme officer at the Kenyan Human Rights Commission's Research and Advocacy Unit.

While Kenya and Tanzania have been the target of attacks, concerns have been 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.

The militias later divided the country into rival fiefdoms.

Since then, Somalia has been plagued by ongoing infighting resulting in severe famine in the country.

A new Somali government, which was formed last year in Kenya, has not been able 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 for operations. - Sapa-IPS

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