Richard Pierrin/AFP/Getty ImagesPolice officers patrol a Haiti neighborhood amid gang-related violence in downtown Port-au-Prince on April 25

Kenya police to take on Haiti criminal gangs amid criticism of their human rights record

By Nimi Princewill, Stephanie Busari, Manveena Suri and Jessie Gretener, CNN

(CNN) — Concerns over Kenya’s human rights record have cast a shadow over a UN decision that gave Kenya the go ahead to lead an armed multinational force to Haiti amid brutal gang violence in the Caribbean country.

For a year, the multinational force, comprising 1,000 Kenya police personnel is expected to combat criminal gangs responsible for a wave of killings, kidnappings and rape in Haiti.

But human rights groups argue that Kenya’s history of human rights abuses must be evaluated.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International Kenya urged UN member states, human rights organizations and citizens to thoroughly examine the “human rights and humanitarian implications” of deploying an armed multinational force to Haiti.

Kenya’s police have often been criticized for a violent approach towards containing demonstrations. Dozens of civilians were killed during anti-government protests in the East African country in July this year.

The UN expressed concern at the time about police brutality during the protests in Kenya, adding that up to 23 people may have been killed during the demonstrations.

Kenya’s foreign minister Alfred Mutua dismissed the UN’s comment, describing it as “inaccurate” but did not provide a figure on the death toll.

The Kenya National Civil Society Center has also opposed the deployment of the country’s police personnel to Haiti, accusing it of “extrajudicial killings.”

“The Kenya Police Service is notorious for its excessive use of force and continues to take the flak to the large number of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary execution of protestors during the recent anti-government protests,” the organization was quoted by CNN affiliate, Citizen Digital.

‘A collective moral duty’

Kenyan President William Ruto called the outcome of Monday’s vote “overdue” and “a critical instrument” that will “provide a different footprint in the history of international interventions in Haiti.”

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In a media statement on Tuesday, Ruto said he was “delighted” that the UNSC had directly answered his call, citing his recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly regarding the need for a framework of a multinational support force in Haiti.

Ruto said the decision “marks an important moment in the history of global multilateralism,” and argued that it “enables the nations of the world to discharge a collective moral duty of securing justice and security for all peoples of all nations.”

“For us in Kenya, this mission is of special significance and critical urgency. We experienced the harrowing brunt of colonialism, as well as the long, difficult and frustrating struggle… In our struggle, we always had friends … true, loyal and determined friends. The people of Haiti, our dear friends, today stand in need. It is our fundamental moral obligation to be their friend indeed, by standing with them,” Ruto said.

Kenya has in the past played a major role in supporting UN peacekeeping initiatives and African Union peace missions. A senior Biden administration official said Kenya had “demonstrated the capacity to lead international security missions of this type and to adhere to UN human rights and accountability standards.”

‘A big gamble’

The US has pledged to provide $100 million in direct support for the multinational force in Haiti, however some in Kenya are skeptical.

Political analyst Herman Manyora told CNN that many Kenyans believe that the country’s mission to Haiti is an “unnecessary risk” and “a big gamble” that’s motivated by President Ruto’s move “to please the international community.”

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“Many people believe the president of Kenya is out to please the international community. He’s out to be a darling of the west. He has been on a charm offensive to please the outside world, to appear to be an African statesman,” Manyora, who is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and founder of The Nairobi Review, said.

Manyora also expressed concern that a language barrier and the unfamiliar terrain in Haiti might pose a threat to the Kenyan security forces.

“Haiti speaks French, we don’t speak French. They have their unique history, we don’t even understand that history. There’s a lot of insecurity (in Haiti). Gangs are on the loose, guns are everywhere – heavy weaponry. What stake does Kenya have to be able to take those chances in a terrain that is foreign and dangerous? … It’s such a big gamble.”

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