An independent investigation of the presidential elections is needed to avert further violence in Kenya, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged the government to end unnecessary restrictions on the media and peaceful assembly.
"Mounting evidence of serious election fraud has helped to ignite violence throughout Kenya," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "An independent and transparent review of the vote tallying is urgently needed."
Kenyan and international election monitors have found widespread evidence of vote-counting irregularities in the December 27 presidential poll in which incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was deemed the winner. Human Rights Watch called upon Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to endorse - and international governments to support - a transparent, independent review with international participation of the tallying process, accompanied by a clear timeframe to complete the review.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the violence ensuing after the election and the government's heavy-handed response. Post-election violence has wracked areas of Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret in the Rift Valley, and Kisumu in Nyanza, among other areas. Media reports have cited up to 350 deaths. Vigilante groups have targeted and attacked Kikuyu, the ethnic group of President Kibaki. There have been horrific incidents, including the burning of a church in western Kenya containing dozens of Kikuyu, including women and children who had sought refuge there.
Opposition supporters have also been victims of the crackdown by the security forces. Opposition protests, which have included violence and looting, have been met with excessive use of force by the police and military. The United Nations now officially estimates that the number of Kenyans internally displaced by post-election violence is 180,000. Kenyan authorities should ensure that all displaced persons and others in need are able to access humanitarian assistance. Human Rights Watch also said that an independent and impartial investigation into the post-election violence was needed so that all those responsible are held accountable.
The government has banned live political broadcasting and protest rallies. Human Rights Watch urged the Kenyan authorities to immediately lift unnecessary restrictions on press freedom and peaceful assembly.
"The Kibaki government has responded to the violence with a military crackdown and restrictions on protests as well as the press," said Gagnon. "Political leaders in Kenya and concerned governments should unite in a call for an end to violence."
Kenyans voted peacefully and in record numbers in parliamentary and presidential elections on December 27. In the parliamentary elections, 99 of the 210 seats were won by the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Vice-President Moody Awori, and 14 of President Kibaki's top ministers lost their seats.
The presidential vote count appeared to be following the same pattern with ODM leader Raila Odinga leading the count. However, in an abrupt turnaround, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) announced that Kibaki was in the lead. The ODM and international election observers raised concerns about poll numbers, which the government ignored. As protests mounted, the electricity was turned off in the ECK election headquarters and ECK commissioners were escorted by police from the building. Immediately afterwards, ECK Chair Samuel Kivuitu declared Kibaki the presidential winner with around 230,000 more votes than Odinga. The government then broadcast on television a clip showing Kibaki being sworn in at State House close to midnight in a hurried private ceremony.
The ECK chair was subsequently quoted in the media saying that he did "not know whether Mr. Kibaki won the elections." He said he was "under pressure" to announce a result quickly despite appeals by election monitors to delay until apparent irregularities were investigated. Four of his ECK colleagues also said they were "uneasy" with the presidential outcome and admitted to "weighty" concerns about the process.
The European Union Electoral Mission expressed grave doubts about the legitimacy of the presidential results. Immediately following the election, it stated "the tallying process lacks credibility and ... the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) has not fulfilled its responsibilities to create such a process." The EU mission reported "some irregularities that cast a doubt on the accuracy of the final results that were announced." The European observers cited Molo constituency, where 25,000 votes were fraudulently added to the tally sheet in favor of Kibaki. Others have also reported fraud, including an elections officer who admitted that election sheet returns have been doctored to favor Kibaki. Other contentious issues include abnormal voter turnouts in the strongholds of both Kibaki and Odinga, and the lack of access to EU observers in some tallying centers, especially in central Kenya, Kibaki's stronghold.
The Kibaki government has so far dismissed calls for an investigation, telling the ODM to lodge any complaints with the courts. However, the Kenyan judiciary is widely perceived as not being independent. The current chief justice was present at the recent swearing-in ceremony of Kibaki. Earlier in his term, Kibaki removed a number of senior judges - including the then-chief justice - and replaced them with individuals viewed as less independent.