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The political agreement in Kenya mediated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is a step forward, but Kenyan politicians must take immediate steps to ensure accountability for human rights violations if further negotiations are to build lasting stability, Human Rights Watch said today.

Kenya’s record of impunity for past episodes of political violence, particularly during the 1992 and 1997 elections, has directly contributed to the current crisis. By failing to hold those most responsible for past abuses accountable, previous Kenyan governments sent the message that organizing or inciting political and ethnic violence carries no penalty.

“Impunity for the political violence of the 1990s continues to fuel clashes,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This mediation process is a historic opportunity to ensure justice for past and present human rights abuses and correct the systemic failures of governance in Kenya.”
Successive Kenyan governments have also failed to implement critical constitutional, judicial and land reforms, as well as address pervasive corruption and the need for police restructuring and reform.

At least one thousand people have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced by violence following the controversial December 2007 presidential elections. Human Rights Watch researchers in Kenya documented several patterns of serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings and excessive use of force by the police, and ethnic-based attacks and reprisals by militia groups on both sides of the political divide.

In many cases, community leaders and local politicians actively incited and, in some cases, directly organized attacks. National political leaders on both sides have done little to rein in the excesses of their supporters.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the agreement by the ruling and opposition parties to establish a panel to review the elections and consider a truth, justice and reconciliation commission, among other reforms. Human Rights Watch called on the Kenyan political leadership to ensure that the agreement produced by the mediation process addresses both accountability and significant institutional reform.

“Truth and reconciliation initiatives may help heal the bitter divisions among Kenyans affected by today’s violence,” said Gagnon. “But justice and institutional reforms are crucial for a future, stable Kenya.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Kenyan political leadership to implement recommendations of previous government inquiries into episodes of political violence that address impunity, judicial independence, electoral reform and land reform.

Two government inquiries, known as the Kiliku and Akiwumi reports, studied the causes of and proper response to outbreaks of violence in Kenya in the 1990s. Both reports named individuals they found to be responsible for supporting and funding ethnic militia activity, and urged further investigations and prosecution. However, the Akiwumi report was suppressed by the Moi government for several years, and many of its recommendations were never implemented.

Similarly, task forces such as the Njonjo and Ndung’u commissions were established to respond to land grievances and other longstanding issues that have contributed to the current violence, but their recommendations went unimplemented.

“Ensuring accountability and implementing reforms will not be easy, but sweeping these issues under the rug again will hinder efforts for lasting peace and justice,” said Gagnon.

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