By Justin Mhaka

As Kenya’s security forces do battle with Al-Qaeda affiliate and East African jihadist terrorist group Al-Shabab, a vicious, inhumane war – carefully hidden from the watchful gaze of the public eye and the critical scrutiny of judicial oversight – silently rages on.

Left in its wake are pitch dark shadows cast by the war: fraught memories of men and women lost to political causes they lived for, and most likely, died painful deaths for.

Left in the path of this unseen war are the vapid emotional scars inflicted on society by the war.

Left hopeless in the aftermath of this war are the other victims of enforced disappearances – those left behind, the survivors: grieving mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives.

“To see the dead body of your family member is painful, but you at least know he is dead,” said a Kenyan man, brother to a missing man.

Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit has been accused of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. “Kenyan counterterrorism forces appear to be killing and disappearing people right under the noses of top government officials, major embassies, and the United Nations,” said Leslie Lefkow, Human Rights Watch deputy Africa director. “This horrendous conduct does not protect Kenyans from terrorism – it simply undermines the rule of law.” 

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenya’s security forces routinely flout Kenyan and international laws in their fight against terror. “Kenya’s efforts to tackle its escalating security crisis have been marred by serious human rights violations by Kenyan security forces, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and torture. The government rarely investigates or prosecutes security officers for such abuse,” says Human Rights Watch.

The advocacy group claims 34 people have disappeared in the past two years during abusive counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and in northeastern Kenya. 

Entire communities live in fear of the unknown, overwrought by the anxiety enforced disappearances evoke, never knowing if death may come knocking at their door.

“No one here reports to police because they fear for their lives. . . . There are people who have been missing for more than nine months. Some are taken for a few weeks or days for questioning and then returned, so it is a situation that disturbs every Wajir resident. People fear and keep asking themselves who the next victim will be,” said a Wajiri resident.

August 30 was International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.