(Washington, DC) - African leaders attending the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on February 1-2, 2008 should call for an independent inquiry into post-election violence and election fraud in Kenya, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the African Union Commission's chairman, Alpha Oumar Konaré.

Human Rights Watch also called on AU heads of state to avoid steps that could be seen to undermine the mediation efforts under way in Kenya.

"African leaders should urge Kibaki to support an independent inquiry into the election fraud that sparked the violence in Kenya," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The African Union should also insist that those responsible on all sides for inciting and organizing the horrendous violence be investigated and held accountable."

Hundreds of people have died, and hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced and are in urgent need of protection following the disputed presidential elections on December 27. International and domestic observers concluded that the presidential poll was marred by serious fraud, particularly by the ruling party.

Human Rights Watch researchers in Kenya have documented the violence that has ensued. In the western city of Kisumu, a stronghold of the political opposition, police carried out dozens of extrajudicial killings and used excessive force in response to legitimate protest. Excessive force and extra-judicial killings continue.

In the past few days, Kenya has moved more deeply into a cycle of violence that may prove hard to contain. Human Rights Watch has documented how community elders and local opposition leaders in the Rift Valley incited and organized violence against ethnic Kikuyu families and individuals perceived to be ruling party supporters. In retaliation, pro-government militia have killed and burned out of their homes members of other communities, notably Kalenjin and Luo. Much of this violence reflects deeply rooted grievances over land and perceived marginalization that successive Kenyan governments have failed to address. But the rigged elections sparked the violence that is now tearing apart the country.

Urgent action should be taken to identify and investigate those responsible for the ongoing violence, including those on all sides responsible for funding and facilitating militias.

Moderate journalists and rights activists have received credible death threats for speaking out against the violence.

"African leaders should tell both Kibaki and the opposition that a full, transparent investigation is urgently needed to end this crisis," said Gagnon.