Failure by the Kenyan government to carry out needed reforms poses a danger of violence in the forthcoming general elections, Human Rights Watch says in its report. The last elections five years ago ended in chaos leaving 1,300 people dead while another 650,000 were uprooted from their homes.Kenya goes to the polls on March 4th this year to elect a president, members of parliament, senators and other local leaders. The last elections five years ago ended in chaos leaving 1,300 people dead while another 650,000 were uprooted from their homes. Above all, it left a country almost irreparably divided.
Human Rights Watch now observes that 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 election-related human rights abuses. The report now calls the United Nations, African Union, and Kenya’s allies to help the country prevent violence, and be prepared to respond if those preventive efforts fail.
The report titled “High Stakes: Political Violence and the 2013 Elections in Kenya” was released on Thursday. It shows that inter-communal clashes in parts of Kenya like Tana River, Mombasa and Kisumu are indicative of violence just days before the elections. The report shows that so far, 477 people have died and hundreds others displaced. Most of this violence has been attributed to pre-election maneuvering by politicians. In Mombasa, the government has in the past few months been tackling the thorny issue of Mombasa Republican Council, a group seeking to break away from the rest of Kenya.
The research was conducted between August and December 2012 in Kenya’s Coast, Eastern, North Eastern, Rift Valley, Central and Nyanza regions. It highlights risks to the right to life that the government needs to address as elections approach. It notes that the Kenya government has failed to address the root causes of violence that have marred multi-party elections since 1992, and especially the atrocities of 2007 and 2008.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Kenyan Government addresses impunity for election-related violence by establishing credible mechanisms within the judiciary, police, and prosecutorial services that enhance capacity to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate cases from the 2007-2008 election-related violence. The report also wants the government to fully support the investigations and prosecutions of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The rights group proposes that the Kenya government provide adequate funds and full support to the Witness Protection Agency so it can provide professional and independent services to witnesses of serious crimes in need of protection.
The body urges government to train all security forces that will be deployed during the elections. The training they recommend should focus on protecting citizens from violence and use of reasonable force. The report identifies hot spot areas asking police to ensure sufficient deployment of properly trained personnel to areas of possible violence ahead of the election, in particular in Coast region; Rift Valley; Nairobi’s informal settlements; Kisumu in Nyanza Region; Isiolo in Eastern region; and Moyale and Mandera in North Eastern region.
To the political aspirants, Human Rights Watch calls for prosecution of candidates and government officials found inciting the public or planning and organizing violence. It has urged politicians to refrain from hate speech.
Currently, 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 vice president, raising the stakes of the March elections. Among other candidates, the two face Prime Minister Raila Odinga, another key player in the elections five years ago.
The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has indicated that the Kenyan government has been slow to respond to her assistance requests. The report comes just days after foreign governments such as United Kingdom, America, France and Sweden threatening to cut ties if any of those indicted by the ICC is elected to power.