No mass grave � but a single body was enough

It became the story of the mass grave that never was. On the surface at least, the Kenya Defence Forces � accused of being responsible for the deaths of the 25 bodies initially reported as being present in a mass grave area south of Mandera � have been exonerated.

The area where the body of Isnina Musa Sheikh was found has been excavated for just over two days. On court orders obtained by the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights.

The Senator for Mandera and the three parliamentarians who publicly announced the finding of a mass grave through both a press conference and social media have been chastised by the Cabinet Secretary for Internal Affairs for causing undue alarm. They have duly apologised.

The KNCHR got court orders, with the permission of Sheikh’s family, to exhume her body from where it had been quickly laid to rest in line with Muslim burial rites and conduct an independent post-mortem.

As some of the photographs that had been circulated of her body from its first resting site showed, the body had been � in the deceptively innocuous language of pathologists � badly injured with a blunt instrument. In short, she had been beaten to death.

What do we know about Sheikh?

Cabinet Secretary for Internal Affairs Joseph Nkaissery tells us she was a cook for Al Shabaab in Somalia. Who knows whether that is true or not?

What we do know is how Sheikh was arrested, presumably for questioning: Those who witnessed her being picked up from the Mandera market where she sold chai and chapatis say people came, not wearing any uniforms, did not identify themselves as security officers, but ordered everybody else to lie down, faces to the floor, as they removed her, bundled her into a white Probox flanked by two military Landcruisers and drove away, on the road leading out of town to the military base.

That was last Thursday. The next time she was seen was when a search party looking for a missing child found her grave on Sunday.

It is shocking that her death was apparently taken so casually by the County Commissioner and the security services in the area that the scene of her excavation remained unguarded � except by residents of the town. That no post-mortem was ordered. That no criminal investigation was begun. Until the arrival of the KNCHR and the local politicians.

This tells us just how commonplace these incidents have become in Mandera. Enforced disappearances, unlawful killings and extrajudicial killings are now the norm � all in the name of counterterrorism.

This is no doubt why Kenyans on social media were so ready and willing to believe the erroneous report about the mass grave. The anger and despair were clear even in the names of the hashtags (for example, #StopKillingSomalis). Kenyans know that something has gone very wrong.

The legislative amendments to the Public Audit Act and the KDF Act mooted in June and September this year are aimed not at fixing but at covering up this situation.

We have sat back and watched it all happen. But the anger and despair that accompanied the erroneous report of the mass grave tell us that we know exactly what we have submitted to. It may not have been a mass grave. But a single body is enough.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes

SOURCE: The East African