By Human Rights Watch Press
Published February 8, 2013
The Kenyan government’s limited progress on promised reforms and failure to address human rights abuse are contributing to tension across the country ahead of the national elections on March 4, 2013, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
In a media release issued on February 8, 2013, HRW urges Kenyan authorities to take urgent steps to help ensure the elections are peaceful, free, and fair.
The common theme across the country, HRW says, is the unwillingness of the government, the justice system, and other authorities to reform the police, tackle corruption, disband criminal groups, resettle displaced people, and hold accountable those responsible for violence. The near total impunity for the murder, rape, and forced displacement after the 2007 general elections has left the people who committed those crimes free to commit them again.
“The victims of violence feel that justice has passed them by, and the people who caused the violence feel protected from the law,” says Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW. “This is a dangerous cocktail for the approaching elections.”
To minimise the risks of violence in March, HRW recommended that the government deploy police in adequate numbers to areas of potential conflict and ensure that they perform their duties impartially and with full respect for the law. Criminal justice authorities should promptly investigate any violent episodes and prosecute anyone, including government officials and candidates for office, suspected of inciting, planning, or organising violence Where there is evidence.
The African Union (AU) and Kenya’s key partners should apply sustained and coordinated pressure on Kenya’s government to ensure free, fair, and peaceful elections, Human Rights Watch said. It is critically important for the Kenyan government to promptly investigate and prosecute crimes committed during previous, current, and future rounds of political violence, and other elections-related human rights abuses,RW says. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should join Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chair of the African Union, to send that strong message.
“Now is the time for Kenya’s international partners to help it fulfill its responsibility to protect its population,” Bekele says. “The UN, AU, and Kenya’s allies should help Kenya prevent violence, and be prepared to respond if those preventive efforts fail.”
In a 58-page report titled “High Stakes: Political Violence and the 2013 Elections in Kenya”, HRW presents the dangers of violence due to government failures to carry out needed reforms. It says that inter-communal clashes in parts of Kenya have claimed more than 477 lives and displaced about 118,000 people in 2012 and 2013. Many of these incidents, HRW says, have been linked to pre-election maneuvering as politicians mobilise support. The police and other authorities have repeatedly failed to prevent the violence or hold those responsible to account.
“Violence is not inevitable but the warning signs are too bright to ignore,” says Bekele. “The government has failed to address the root causes of violence that have marred multi-party elections since 1992, and especially the atrocities of 2007-2008, so urgent steps are needed to protect Kenyans.”
After the last general elections in 2007, inter-ethnic clashes and police violence left some 1,300 people dead and 650,000 displaced. In early 2012 Keriako Tobiko, the director of public prosecution, stated he had opened about 5,000 files but to date only 14 people have been convicted for the serious post-election crimes five years ago.
The March 4 elections are the first under Kenya’s new constitution that came into force in 2010. To promote decentralisation, Kenyans will vote for a President, a Senator, a Governor, a Member of Parliament and a host of local positions in 47 newly created counties.
“The communities are preparing ” they are arming themselves, one activist in a local nongovernmental organisation is quoted in the HRW report as having said. “All over they are saying: ‘This time we won’t be unprepared.'”
The report is based on interviews with more than 225 people around Kenya with a focus on Kenya’s Central, Coast, Eastern, North Eastern, Nyanza, and Rift Valley regions. The dynamics and risks in each of these regions differ, Human Rights Watch said.
In Coast, the government is facing a secessionist group opposed to the elections as well as a violent inter-ethnic conflict. In Nyanza and Central, powerful criminal groups and armed gangs are backing politicians. In North Eastern, government security forces have stoked tensions by using excessive force against local residents, especially after attacks by armed groups on the police and military.
Without domestic prosecutions for the worst crimes in the 2007-2008 violence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has stepped in. Four Kenyans are facing charges of crimes against humanity at the ICC, with trials due to start in April. Two of the four suspects, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, are running on a joint ticket for president and deputy president, raising the stakes of the March elections.
Full cooperation with the ICC is important to ensure the court can move forward with trials, HRW says. The ICC prosecutor has indicated that the Kenyan government has been slow to respond to her assistance requests.
The report points to the lack of police reform as a key concern. Although identified repeatedly as a problem, the police remain understaffed and ill-equipped, Human Rights Watch said. During violent clashes in 2012 and early 2013 the police frequently failed to intervene. When they did, they often used excessive and indiscriminate force. Kenyans across the country told Human Rights Watch that they view the police as ineffective and corrupt.
The underlying causes of election-related violence going back to 1992 remain unaddressed, Human Rights Watch said. These include disputes over land and the inequitable distribution of national resources. The government promised to address these and many other core issues after the 2007-2008 violence but has failed to do so adequately, Human Rights Watch said.
For the report HRW submitted detailed questions to the Prime Minister, Minister for Provincial Administration and Internal Security, Minister for Justice, and Minister for Special Programmes about the government’s efforts to hold free and fair elections without violence, but the government did not respond.