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Abuses detailed to Kenyan truth commission

By ROSE ODENGO, GLOBAL PRESS INSTITUTE

ISIOLO, Kenya, June 3 (UPI) -- "Iman Tari," a voice calls forward. Tari, a stout woman wearing a black burqa and white headscarf, rises from her seat.

A young man in his late 20s stands up beside her and supports her as she walks. Her feet step slowly and steadily across the cement floor to a table laden with microphones and earpieces.

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Tari inches closer to the microphone and begins her testimony to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission established by the Kenyan Parliament in 2008 to investigate the gross human rights violations and other historical injustices in Kenya committed between Dec. 12, 1963, and Feb. 28, 2008.

The TJRC spent 32 days in April and May having hearings in the Eastern and North Eastern provinces. The hearings aim to offer transitional justice and recommendations on a legal course of action to ensure justice to people like Tari, a survivor of government-created concentration camps in post-independence Kenya.

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Tari says she was held in a concentration camp better known as Manyatta Prison in Garbatulla, a small town in northern Kenya. The facilities lacked even the most basic amenities.

"There was no water or food," she says. "We used to smell. Because of the cold, we used to light the pieces of boxes that lay around to keep warm. For toilets, we used to dig a hole in the ground."

She says women were rounded up and beaten daily, regardless of whether they were pregnant. She says she miscarried at five months.

"At night we would be beaten with the stock of their rifles," she says. "Our husbands' hands were tied and wives raped by military personnel."

Tari is one of 30 individuals and groups who testified at the hearings in Isiolo, a town in Kenya's Eastern Province. Tari's testimony is a tale common to the people in the room -- but foreign to many Kenyans living outside of this region.

Secessionist sentiments by Somalis in Kenya's Eastern and North Eastern provinces at the time of independence in 1963 led to a war between rebels and the government, which created "protected villages" across the region.

People from these villages, which were essentially concentration camps, recently testified at the TJRC hearings about widespread violence, rape, murder and human rights abuses. Military officials admit the government used the rebels or "Shiftas" as an excuse to persecute Somalis across the region.

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The TJRC is to make recommendations in the fall to the Kenyan government on how to ensure justice is served.

Last month, more than 30 people testified at the TJRC hearings in Isiolo to convey their experiences living in the concentration camps. Tecla Namachanja Wanjala, TJRC's acting chairwoman, says the camps were like "hell on Earth."

Like Tari, Fatuma Ibrahim, a mother of nine, testified during the TJRC hearing in Isiolo. She says she was in a concentration camp called Kambi ya Juu.

"Women were raped," she says, her bright eyes opening wide to emphasize the weight of the atrocities. "Women had their privates cut with broken bottles."

Ibrahim says she was part of a group of people who were whisked away from their homes and jailed without trial. After being jailed for three months, she says she shocked the armed forces personnel when she pleaded not to be released and sent to a concentration camp.

"I begged to stay in jail because at least in jail they offered us food," she says. "There was nothing in the camps."

Wanjala says she is optimistic about the reconciliation process, which she says has been successful so far. She says she believes that justice will prevail.

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"Their stories have to be heard," she says. "What we have done to each other has to be exposed. The current generation has suffered. The coming generation does not have to suffer. Things need to be corrected if reconciliation and healing has to take place."

The TJRC's mandate requires it to provide recommendations on the implementation strategy. It is to present the final report to President Mwai Kibaki in November 2011, when its mandate lapses.

"The summary of the findings and recommendations need to [be] published in three national newspapers," Wanjala says. "According to the act, all the implementations have to be [adopted]."

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Read more: http://www.globalpressinstitute.org/global-news/africa/kenya/victims-testify-about-rape-murder-kenya's-post-independence-concentration-c?page=3#ixzz1OF1PyBtC

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