Such strength has already been on display through the gallant efforts of our security officers whose response saw 663 students rescued even as some of the officers made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives in the line of duty. In the aftermath of the attack, the indomitable spirit of the Kenyan people has been illustrated through various forms of support and donations taken to the families at Chiromo Mortuary, Kenyatta National Hospital and Nyayo National Stadium. We also compliment the Kenya Red Cross Response teams that were on the ground soon after the attack working closely with other command structures within the government and deploying ambulances and paramedics at the scene. We must also commend the spontaneous efforts by Kenyans to ensure that the memory of the victims is celebrated and not forgotten, most particularly through the “#147notjustanumber” campaign that is now a global discussion online, and the vigils that have accompanied it.

We must however reflect on the challenges we have encountered in combating this terror threat and the Commission wishes to state as follows:

1.  In addition to the immediate security threat, the government must also safeguard against the social and economic isolation of the Northern Kenya region as it bears the brunt of these terrorist attacks. The Garissa attack comes in the wake of similar incidences in Mandera County that had already seen an exodus of teachers who had cited the region as being unsafe. In similar fashion, Garissa now faces the indefinite closure of the only University College in the region. This has the huge potential of curtailing the right to education for most families. These actions are a huge setback for a region that had only begun to emerge from a history of social and economic marginalization through the promise of devolution. With the education sector already in peril, it would be catastrophic if other public services such as their already fragile health sector were to follow suit. It is imperative that Kenyans are able to exercise their freedom of movement and conscience and that the government guarantees the security of individuals in every part of the Country.

The government must enhance its security presence in these counties that have been consistently targeted by Al Shabaab and give an assurance to ALL residents of their safety. This must however be reinforced by a concerted effort in conjunction with local leaders to counter the narrative of ethnic and religious division that is being propagated by Al Shabaab.

Most importantly, the government must immediately follow through on the President’s pledge in his State of the Nation Address for “strategic initiatives in marginalized and at-risk regions and populations of our country”. We call on the wider Kenyan public to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this region and frustrate all those who seek to divide us through fear.

2.  The government in undertaking counter-terrorism security operations must uphold all human rights obligations and abide by the Constitution. We must remember that Al Shabaab hopes to undermine our governance structures by playing into our fear and provoking us into measures such as collective punishment and discrimination against targeted groups. The government must instead embrace an inclusive and consultative approach that establishes a partnership with the public in as far as a counter-terrorism strategy is concerned. All investigations and prosecutions must be done in accordance with the law so as to curb any allegations of victimization or persecution that Al Shabaab may wish to rely on.

3. The government must fully commit to and invest in comprehensive security sector reforms governed by the rule of law. Such reforms include: a clear coordination framework for all security agencies that is respectful of the Constitution and related laws; the proper allocation and use of resources in responding to security threats; and a rapid improvement in the welfare of security personnel entrusted to keep us safe. The President’s recent directive on police recruitment unfortunately undermines these reforms by creating a dispute with the Judiciary and other State organs rather than maintaining a focus on the terror threat.

We must pay tribute to our fallen comrades by reaffirming our Kenyan unity and way of life based on the values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law.

Atsango Chesoni

Executive Director the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)