By KEVIN J. KELLEY
NEW YORK/UNITED NATIONS
The Kenyan government is disputing allegations in a new United Nations report that its forces were responsible for 40 civilian deaths in Somalia during a 22-month period ending in mid-October.
The report issued on Sunday states that air strikes carried out by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) were “allegedly responsible for 42 civilian casualties (36 killed, six injured).”
The UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (Unsom) and the UN Human Rights Office, which jointly compiled the report, attribute those deaths and injuries to KDF units not affiliated with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
Kenya's Amisom contingent is meanwhile said in the report to have killed four Somali civilians and injured five others.
“Ultimately, civilians are paying the price for failure to resolve Somalia’s conflicts through political means,” said Unsom chief Michael Keating. “And parties to the conflict are simply not doing enough to shield civilians from the violence. This is shameful.”
The report emphasises, however, that Al-Shabaab is responsible for the largest share of civilian casualties in Somalia, including the 512 deaths resulting from explosions in Mogadishu on October 14.
In a formal response appended to the 56-page report, the Kenya embassy in Mogadishu disputes allegations of KDF responsibility for any civilian casualties in Somalia.
Specifically, the response on behalf of the Kenyan government denies that there are Kenyan units in Somalia operating outside of Amisom's aegis.
“For a UN report to insinuate that Kenya has an occupational force in Somalia is not only incorrect but very unfortunate — hence, need for this part of the report to be deleted forthwith,” declares the response signed by Kenya's Ambassador to Somalia Lucas Tumbo.
The ambassador's response further states that “Kenya has never received any complaint of civilian deaths against KDF during the period under review.”
He adds: “The serious allegation against KDF is not justified beyond doubt and therefore should not be retained in this report.”
“The government of Kenya takes the necessary precautions to protect civilians in all its operations,” the embassy's response declares.
The UN does caution in its report that “the number of civilian casualties caused by airstrikes is difficult to verify as most are conducted in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas, to which the United Nations and others have limited or no access.”
The report notes that Amisom has leased three attack helicopters from Kenya that are operated by KDF/Amisom under the command of Amisom's force commander.
The UN study adds, however, that “in parallel and since 2016, the non-Amisom KDF is reportedly using its own air assets.”
In a further acknowledgment of uncertainty regarding the outcome of air strikes, the report states, “Attribution of responsibility for casualties caused by Amisom-KDF and those caused by non-Amisom KDF has become even more challenging.”
Ambassador Tumbo offers a blistering general critique of the report titled ““Protection of Civilians: Building the Foundation for Peace, Security and Human Rights in Somalia.”
The UN says its findings are based on information from victims, witnesses, and local, national and international NGOs, as well as official Somali government documents. “Unsom requires at least three independent sources to verify a civilian casualty,” the study states.
But the Kenyan government calls the UN report “extremely sensational,” adding it “carries unqualified allegations which have serious implications on the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) as a professional force.”
“The report may be construed to advance Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups' agenda by demonising counter-terrorism operations while vocalising Al-Shabaab propaganda,” says the response by Ambassador Tumbo.
Al-Shabaab is held responsible in the report for the largest civilian toll, with the Islamist insurgents said to have killed 1,223 civilians and injured nearly 1,500. Those sums represent 60 per cent of civilian casualties during the time covered by the report.
Uganda's Amisom contingent was reportedly responsible for the largest number of civilian casualties in the period from January 1, 2016, to October 14, 2017. Ugandan troops killed 38 Somali civilians and injured 25, the UN says.
Ethiopia's Amisom units were responsible for 25 civilian deaths, 15 injuries and two rapes, according to the report.
The Burundian contingent killed 14 Somali civilians and injured 11, while one Somali non-combatant was killed by Djiboutian forces operating under Amisom's command, the report adds. An additional 13 civilian deaths were attributed to Amisom, with no specific country's contingent identified as responsible.
The report points out that Amisom is responsible for only four per cent of the total of 4,585 civilian casualties recorded in Somalia during the period under review.
“State actors,” which are said to include the Somali army, police and Intelligence Security Agency, are blamed for 11 per cent of the civilian casualties.
“Nevertheless, such casualties are of utmost concern as they undermine the Somali population’s trust in the government and the international community, which in turn expands the space in which anti-government elements continue to operate,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Clan militias accounted for 594 casualties, or 13 per cent of the total number, the report adds.
“The drought has intensified clan conflict due to competition over resources,” the study notes. “These conflicts are exploited by anti-government elements to further destabilise areas, diminish prospects for lasting peace and weaken civilian protection.”