Kenya lawsuit over alleged assaults at Del Monte farm

A rights group and community activists filed a lawsuit Saturday against US multinational food giant Del Monte over accusations of killings and assaults at its vast pineapple plantation near Nairobi.

The case, lodged at the High of Court Kenya, is also on behalf of people who say they had been attacked by Del Monte security guards, and relatives of alleged victims.

The company, which employs 6,000 people in Kenya and has faced accusations of abuse and violence in the past, could not be immediately contacted for comment.

In the most recent incident, Kenyan police are investigating the suspected murder this month of four men accused of trying to steal pineapples from the Del Monte farm near Thika, northeast of the capital Nairobi.

Saturday’s lawsuit, a copy of which was seen by AFP, said Del Monte has been locked in a land ownership row with the local community, which claims the company’s land as its ancestral home.

It said locals had been long been crossing the 10,000-acre (4,000-hectare) plantation “leading to conflicts with the security personnel deployed by Delmonte, who assault, beat, torture, maim, rape and/or kill the trespassers.

“Multiple killings have occurred at Del Monte’s pineapple farm in Kenya, where security guards allegedly murdered trespassers and showed general violence against locals,” it added.

Alleged thieves have been beaten to death by the guards, drowned in dams or dumped in the nearby river, it charged.


– ‘Toxic pesticides’ –


In addition, it said waste water from Del Monte operations was laced with “toxic pesticides” deemed hazardous by the World Health Organization.

Several petitioners claimed they had suffered various injuries at the hands of guards in separate incidents over the past few years.

One said he had been run over, while another claimed he had been sexually harassed then attacked with stones as he ran away.

The lawsuit lists Del Monte’s Kenya operation as well as top police and legal officials as respondents.

It is seeking compensation and punitive damages and has also called on the High Court to rule that the actions of the respondents were violations of human rights, environment and constitutional laws.

Earlier this week, Kenyan police launched an investigation after the bodies of four men were discovered on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a river near the plantation.

Results of a post-mortem released on Friday found that at least three of the four had drowned and also bore signs of injury, according to Kenyan media reports.


– ‘No foul play’ –


Kenyan National Commission for Human Rights official Kamanda Mucheke was quoted by the leading Daily Nation newspaper as saying the men were beaten by Del Monte security guards.

“Our preliminary investigations reveal beyond reasonable doubt that the four men were attacked before they were forcibly drowned,” he said.

The multinational company said CCTV footage showed the four had attempted to steal pineapples from its farm and showed “no foul play on Del Monte’s part”.

“Del Monte Kenya is cooperating with Kenyan authorities as they continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the four bodies,” it said in a statement to AFP earlier this week.

“Organised crime, particularly around pineapple theft, is becoming increasingly rampant in the area,” it added.

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