Saturday, February 09, 2008

Protect Kenyan human rights defenders from death threats: Amnesty International!

Human Rights Concerns
Kenya held presidential and parliamentary elections on December 27, 2007. On December 30, the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced that President Mwai Kibaki had won the presidential election and he was quickly sworn in for a second term in office. Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) won a large majority of parliamentary seats over Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and other parties, but disputed the announced loss of the presidential election. Local and international election observers have questioned the credibility of the counting and tallying of the presidential vote. The Kibaki government insists that the President won the elections fairly.

The announcement of election results and Kibaki’s inauguration was followed by widespread outrage and violence in many parts of Kenya, particularly in Nairobi, Nyanza Province, Western Province, the Rift Valley and Coast Province. This violence has involved many incidents of one-sided attacks on members of the Kikuyu tribe, often with machetes, stones and clubs. A significant part of the violence was also criminally motivated, exploiting a period of lawlessness to steal, rape, and displace people from land and property. Informal roadblocks quickly sprung up in many parts of Kenya, and numerous areas became no-go zones for members of the wrong ethnic group, as reprisals for the violence continue. More than 600 people have been killed through communal violence and police killings, with the UN stating that over 250,000 people are displaced. Thousands others have crossed into Uganda and Tanzania as refugees.

Amnesty International has called upon the Kenyan government and political party leaders to take all possible measures to ensure an immediate halt to the violence and to commit themselves publicly to the respect and protection of the human rights of all citizens. Political leaders must not explicitly or implicitly condone violence against supposed supporters of their rivals.

The government has deployed security forces to many areas. Police and troops began to protect people from violent mobs in some areas and dispersed violent protesters in others. However, police have been responsible for the deaths of scores of people in different parts of Kenya. While the police have been trying to contain what in some cases have been violent protests in Kenya, the methods they have employed, such as firing live ammunition into crowds, exceed acceptable use of force and cannot be justified. On January 16-18 alone, at least twelve individuals, including a 13-year old boy, were shot and killed by police bullets during protests called by the opposition party. In one incident, captured on video by a local television station, an unarmed protestor in Kisumu town in Western Kenya was shot at close range by a Kenyan police officer who then kicked him while he lay wounded on the ground. The man reportedly died later from the bullet wound.

Under the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, police may use force only when strictly necessary and only to the minimum extent required by the circumstances. Lethal force should not be used except when unavoidable in order to protect life. The Kenyan government must immediately send clear instructions to the police to stop this excessive use of force, conduct an independent and impartial inquiry into the police killings, and prosecute any police officers who have used excessive force against protesters.

As political tension mounted, the government banned live broadcasting by the Kenyan media, although the ban is in practice widely ignored. The government banned all demonstrations called by the opposition in Nairobi and other towns and has since prevented demonstrators from gathering, using tear-gas , water-cannon and, in some incidences, firing live ammunition into crowds which have at times been violent. There are also reports that journalists covering the protests and the police response have been harassed, and that human rights defenders protesting the use of excessive force by Kenyan security forces have been arrested.

Amnesty International calls on the Kenyan government to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly throughout Kenya. It is only through the respect for human rights that the country will be able to resolve the political crisis it is now facing.

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