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Human Rights Watch World Report 1998


Human Rights Developments

Levels of violence steadily rose throughout the year as the early 1998 deadline for elections drew closer. The crisis was precipitated by the government's refusal to enact previously promised reforms to allow genuine political liberalization. National and international pressure increased on President Moi to take steps to address the lack of accountability and corruption that have characterized his nineteen-year rule. President Moi responded with a characteristic combination of recalcitrance and heavy-handed brutality, all the while making promises to bring about change that it failed to be implemented.

Throughout the year, measures to restrict the activities of the political opposition and to undermine a national voter registration process continued. By year's end, the government's actions left grave doubts as to whether a free and fair multiparty election in Kenya was possible. Opposition supporters continued to complain of disruption of their meetings by police or local authorities, as well as the denial of permits to hold meetings by police or local authorities. The National Electoral Commission remained a presidentially-appointed body and was blatantly used by the government to its advantage. By rejecting all but new national identity cards as a basis to receive voter registration cards and denying the new cards to many, the procedure was manipulated to disenfranchise an estimated one million eligible voters. The government continued to ignore or deny registration applications from over a dozen political parties, including Safina, a party formed by top members of the Kenyan opposition in 1995 and heavily attacked by President Moi at the time. The block on registration exacerbated political struggles between factions in the opposition parties since no new parties could be formed. The government continued to curb free speech by not relinquishing its monopoly on the broadcast media, severely restricting the ability of the political opposition to disseminate information, while using the media to promote the ruling party.

By mid-year, a pro-democracy alliance made up of the political opposition, religious, and human rights groups, hadorganized to call for the repeal of laws (some dating back to the colonial period) that allowed Moi to manipulate the political system to his advantage. Among those that violated international standards included the Preservation of Public Security Act, that allowed indefinite detention without trial and restrictions on freedom of movement; the Public Order Act, that restricted freedom of association; the Defamation Act and Penal Code provisions on sedition, that restricted the right to freedom of expression; and the Societies Act, that restricted registration of associations, including political parties and trade unions.

Peaceful rallies and strikes called by the pro-democracy alliance, the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC), were met with force and in one case resulted in violent protest action. The police brutally dispersed rallies on May 31, July 7, August 8, and October 10. Ultimately, thirteen pro-democracy protesters were killed by police using teargas, bullets and batons and some 500 people were arrested. During the course of the dispersals, protesters were shot at point-blank range. Police even stormed the Anglican Cathedral where a prayer meeting was underway, tear-gassing and clubbing parishioners. During the August 8 rally, two police were beaten to death by protesters.

Following international and national pressure, President Moi ordered police to stop breaking up the non-violent political protests and promised limited reforms. In the face of the political pressure, the government ordered the attorney-general to issue draft bills to repeal some of the repressive laws and announced the creation of a parliamentary commission to review the constitution and to reevaluate laws used to stifle debate. However, these efforts did not translate into meaningful changes. For instance, the proposed Peaceful Assemblies Bill that was to replace the Public Order Act continued to retain restrictive provisions such as the wide discretionary rights of local government officials to close down meetings. The government also remained firm on its refusal to have any constitutional reform prior to the elections on the grounds that time was short. Opposition leaders said that the proposed reforms did not go far enough and pointed out that constitutional reform had been promised by the government after the last 1992 election. Nonetheless, the pro-democracy alliance suspended its campaign of civil disobedience in August to allow a group of clergymen to mediate. In July, the government announced that it would introduce further legal reforms and set up a commission to look into constitutional reforms.

Kenya's universities continued to be targeted by police in 1997, and a climate of fear and intimidation gripped the universities after four students were killed at three different campuses. On December 17, 1996, Festus Okong'o Etaba, a first-year student at Egerton University, was shot and killed by police during a student demonstration seeking a partial refund of fees. The following day, police shot and killed Kenneth Makokha Mutabi and Eric Kamundi, who were among a group of students at Kenyatta University who had gathered peacefully to mourn the death of Mr. Etaba and to protest the use of lethal force by police against unarmed students. On February 23, Solomon Muruli, a Nairobi University student leader, was killed after a suspicious early morning explosion and fire in his dormitory room. The university was briefly closed by the government in February following a student protest over Muruli's death. The university was again a target of a police raid during the pro-democracy rallies: After breaking up one of them, police raided the university and attacked students at the architecture faculty while they were sitting their exams. The students were beaten and shot and a professor was left unconscious with broken bones. By October, the government had yet to hold anyone responsible for any of these incidents. The deaths of the students were only the most visible and dramatic consequences of a deep crisis at Kenya's universities.

In August, a series of ethnically-driven attacks in the Coast Province killed some forty people and displaced over 120,000. The attacks, by armed gangs from coastal ethnic groups, razed businesses and homes belonging to people from inland tribes. Leaflets were distributed in some areas in which certain groups were attacked which stated "The time has come for us original inhabitants of the coast to claim what is rightly ours. We must remove these invaders from our land." Several people were killed by machetes. The warnings and the attacks were strikingly similar to the "ethnic" violence which had taken place prior to the 1992 elections in the Rift Valley, and targeted some of the same ethnic groups. In those attacks, substantial evidence showed that the Moi government had been behind the attacks against ethnic groups perceived to support the political opposition. Since the violence followed shortly after voter registration ended, some Kenyan human rights activists surmised that the attacks at the coast had been instigated by the government, after voter registration data had indicated that it would lose the coast province. The government maintained that the violence was the work of local criminals taking advantage of the volatile political climate. Some 300 arrests were made by the police, including several ruling party members, and strong statements condemning the violence were made by the government. However, by October it was still unclear who was behind the violence, although the gangs had reportedly been organized and trained some months prior to the attacks.

The government continued to consolidate the political gains of the state-sponsored "ethnic" violence of the early 1990s. At that time, some 300,000 people from ethnic groups perceived to support the opposition were driven from their land in large-scale attacks. The government instigated the violence after it was forced to concede to demands for amultiparty system, in order to punish and disenfranchise ethnic groups associated with the opposition, while rewarding its supporters with illegally obtained land. This land, located largely in Rift Valley Province, is in an area which boasts the largest number of parliamentary seats and some of the most fertile land in the country. Throughout the year, local government officials continued to countenance fraudulent land transfers and land sales under duress in Rift Valley Province further entrenching the gains.

Street children in Kenya continued to be the subject of harassment and abuse by Kenyan police. They were subject to frequent arrests and group roundups simply because they were homeless. Although government officials asserted that the children were rounded up with the intention of helping the children, the manner in which the children were treated, both by police and in the institutions where they were housed, belied this. Children were routinely beaten by police and held in station lockups, with adults, for days and even weeks before they were charged and remanded to detention centers for long periods of time pending adjudication of their cases. The complex and outdated legal provisions and enforcement mechanists resulted in the criminalization and mistreatment of street children.

The government continued to use the judiciary for political ends. No progress was made during 1997 by the legal task forces formed by the attorney general in 1993 to amend or repeal repressive legislation. The trial of prominent opposition figure Koigi wa Wamwere and two others on charges of armed robbery continued on appeal, although by January, the government had released them all on bail. The lower court trial which resulted in a prison sentence in 1995 was criticized by local and international human rights and bar organizations for not conforming to international standards.

In July, the Kenyan government cooperated with the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and arrested eighty Rwandan genocide suspects, pending formal application for their extradition. Seven of the arrested Rwandans were indicted by the tribunal on charges of genocide and were handed over by the Kenyan authorities to the tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. The arrests were significant since those arrested were among the most prominent of the alleged perpetrators that had sought asylum in Kenya, and President Moi had previously stated that he would not cooperate with the tribunal. Unfortunately, the arrests of the seven Rwandans was followed by a sweep of arrests against foreigners in Kenya, including a number of duly recognized refugees. Some were held without charge for short periods in order to extort money.

The Right to Monitor

A wide array of local human rights organizations were engaged in monitoring human rights in Kenya, among others the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Center for Governance and Democracy, Concerned Citizens for Constitutional Change, International Commission of Jurists (Kenya), the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya), the Kenya Anti-Rape Organization, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), the Legal Advice Center, Public Law Institute, and Release Political Prisoners (RPP). The national Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and the Catholic Church were also outspoken on human rights issues.

In particular, the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC), a pro-democracy alliance, made up of a coalition of religious, human rights and political groups, came under strong government attack in 1997. The demonstrations and rallies organized by the NCEC were forcibly dispersed and the NCEC was heavily criticized by the government for calling for democratic reforms. Two Kenyan television editors were suspended from their jobs from July to October after screening footage of police brutality at the Anglican Cathedral. Two nongovernmental organizations that work with street children reported that their staff members were harassed by Nairobi police for their attempts to help street children (these organizations requested anonymity). One staff member was arrested along with street children during a street sweep.

The government-sponsored Human Rights Committee, formed in May 1996, was virtually silent in the face of human rights abuses in 1997, giving credence to the widespread belief that this body was created merely to offset international criticism of Kenya's record.

The Role of the International Community

Prior to the 1992 elections, Kenya's main donors played a key role in pushing the government to concede to domestic demands for a multiparty system. Since then, donor pressure waned significantly despite continuing human rights abuses in Kenya, and aid was steadily resumed on the basis of economic reforms. In 1997, donors took a more unified public stand around human rights, although they stopped short of placing human rights conditions on donor aid. In a series of joint statements, several donor countries criticized the deteriorating human rights situation in Kenya.

In February, the U.S. and Japan issued a joint statement condemning police brutality against opposition partymembers. In April, the U.S., the European Union and Japan condemned inflammatory racist remarks made by senior opposition party members against members of the Kenyan Asian community. The same month, the U.K., U.S., Japan and twelve European embassies issued a joint statement condemning the harassment of opposition leaders and called on the government to "allow political leaders, candidates and all citizens freedom of speech and assembly, which are essential to free and fair elections." In May, twenty-two embassies, including those of all of Kenya's main aid donors, presented a joint position to the Kenyan government that outlined areas of concern including access to the ballot, access to the electorate, access to information, and freedom of assembly. In June, another joint statement was issued that called on the Kenyan government to protect its citizens from violence and to uphold their rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association. In July, in response to the police attacks on peaceful demonstrators, the same alliance condemned the police brutality and called on President Moi to have an "open and frank" dialogue with the opposition.

A Consultative Group meeting of all Kenya's donors scheduled for July 11 to discuss new aid commitments was postponed by the government. By October, no new date had been set. In response to the mounting international criticism, President Moi attacked "foreigners" for telling Kenyans what to do and called on the international pressure to end, stating "they should understand that the country and its people have been pushed far enough."

In July, the International Monetary Fund suspended its Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility, a U.S. $220 million loan agreement, that had been signed in 1995, because the government had not taken sufficient steps to combat corruption. This was followed by similar action on the part of the World Bank that suspended a $71.6 million Structural Adjustment credit to Kenya pending action on economic reform. Although human rights abuses did not prompt the decisions of the international financial institutions, the suspensions coincided with international censure over the government's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy advocates, and contributed to the mounting pressure for Moi to take steps to reform.

European Union

Following the police brutality against the pro-democracy alliance rallies, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on May 15 urging the European Council and the European Commission to look into the situation. The European Parliament also requested that the government of Kenya find out who was responsible for these attacks and bring them to justice. On July 15, 1997, responding to a question floored by Graham Watson, British MEP, concerning the upcoming elections in Kenya, Commissioner Joao de Deus Pinheiro replied by saying that if the elections were not handled fairly, the European Union might consider cutting aid.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on July 17 that condemned human rights violations in Kenya. The resolution requested that the Kenyan government stop all forms of repression and violations of the freedom of expression as well as ensuring that the upcoming elections would be held in a fair manner. Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan stated that the European Union (E.U.) was deeply concerned with the worsening situation in Kenya. He also stated that the European Commission was currently discussing these concerns with the Kenyan government with the assistance of the Donor's Democratic Development Group.

Following police brutality at the August 8 pro-democracy rally, the E.U. issued a declaration condemning the violence. The E.U. requested that the groups responsible for the recent outbreaks of violence cease their actions and settle their differences in a peaceful fashion. On September 19, 1997, the European Parliament adopted a resolution stating that it "strongly condemn[s] all incidents of political violence organized by state security forces." This resolution also requested E.U. support to make sure that the forthcoming elections will be conducted in a fair manner. The European Parliament also requested the E.U. to monitor the human rights situation and to provide aid to the refugees in the Mombasa region. This resolution came in the wake of the ethnically-based violence in the Coast Province that left tens of thousands homeless.

United States

The U.S. adopted a notably more firm and public stand on human rights in 1997. This change could be credited largely to the appointment of Ambassador Prudence Bushnell in October 1996, and the importance newly accorded to human rights in both bilateral and multilateral settings. The year was marked by public statements condemning human rights violations. In February, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement deploring the death of student activist Muruli. In July, the U.S. ambassador observed that the pre-conditions for free and fair elections were not yet in place" and that the government's actions "limit the choice of the people and do not reflect great progress in efforts to strengthen democracy." The State Department also publicly deplored the police brutality and in a strongly-worded statement noted that "[t]he real source of political violence in Kenya is not just the government's unacceptable "strong-arm" tactics, butits failure to take the essential, concrete steps to create a free and fair electoral climate." In August, Ambassador Bushnell stated unequivocally that "the U.S. will not be a silent witness to human rights abuses. We will condemn the use of excessive force. We call on the government and opposition alike to respect the rights guaranteed to Kenyans under their constitution and international conventions."

In July, the Africa Subcommittee of the House International Affairs Committee held hearings on "U.S. Policy Toward Kenya." In August, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter to President Moi calling for the government to end the violence and to initiate constitutional review. In 1997, U.S. aid to Kenya totaled U.S. $34 million, including humanitarian aid. Approximately two-thirds of this aid was allocated to program assistance, which was directly almost entirely to nongovernmental organizations.

Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:

Failing the Internally Displaced: The UNDP Displaced Persons Program in Kenya, 6/97

Police Abuse and Detention of Street Children in Kenya, 6/97

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