Human Rights Developments

As the country's attention began to focus on the run-up to the next election, likely to be called in 1997, the government of President Daniel arap Moi became more blunt in its efforts to consolidate power through the denial of free speech, association, and assembly. The Kenyan constitution required new parliamentary and presidential elections to be held before early 1998, when the government's mandate expires, but as of this writing, the government had not announced a date. The government's measures to restrict the activities of the political opposition and to undermine national voter registration posed grave doubts as to whether a free and fair multiparty election was possible in Kenya. The National Electoral Commission remained a presidentially-appointed body despite calls by nongovernmental organizations and the political opposition for some input into the selection of members. This year, the commission announced the creation of twenty-two new election constituencies, some of which redrew boundaries in the politically controversial Rift Valley Province and were based on ethnicity. Many Kenyans believed that the redistricting was designed to allow the ruling Kenya National African Union (KANU) to win more parliamentary seats in the next election. Although in May, KANU and opposition parliamentarians agreed to a parliamentary review of the electoral laws, no further action was taken. Beginning in December 1995, a system for the reissue of national identity cards was instituted throughout the nation. The issue of new national identity cards quickly became another means through which the government could disenfranchise select groups. Without a national identity card, a citizen could not obtain a voter registration card. As of June 30, 1996, only 4.6 million identity cards had been issued to a projected eligible voting population of 13.5 million. The registration process was extremely slow, with reports of delays of up to six months, requests for bribes by issuing officers, and selective registration of KANU supporters in some areas. In the Rift Valley Province, some people from ethnic groups which were generally considered to support the opposition were reportedly told to go to their "ancestral area" to register for their identity cards. Following national pressure, the Electoral Commission announced that voter cards would also be issued on the basis of the old expired national identity cards in order to ensure that eligible voters would be able to cast their ballots. However, in July President Moi overruled the Electoral Commission, announcing that voter registration cards would be issued solely on the basis of new identity cards and that the old identity cards would not be recognized. Kenyan nongovernmental organizations estimated that some 6.2 million people could be disenfranchised as a result. The government continued to ignore registration applications from over a dozen political parties, including Safina, a party formed by top members of Kenya's opposition in 1995 and heavily attacked by President Moi at the time. The block on registration prevented new parties from being formed, while exacerbating political struggles between factions in the opposition parties since no one could leave and form a new party. The existing political opposition parties – the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (FORD-K), FORD-Asili, and the Democratic Party – remained divided largely on ethnic lines, and divisions within the parties deepened. Numerous opposition supporters complained of disruption of their meetings by police or local authorities, as well as the denial of permits to hold meetings without cause or right of appeal. Under Kenyan law, a license had to be obtained in advance from the local district commissioner and opposition members of parliament could not hold a meeting in their constituencies without permission from the government. In March, an assistant minister in the office of the president announced that local government officials could cancel political rallies at any time, even if a license had been granted. Following the announcement, several peaceful rallies were closed down on the grounds that President Moi was being insulted. In June, opposition politicians were prevented by police and members of KANU's youth wing from entering Molo town where they planned to campaign. The "youth wingers" also stabbed East African Standard photographer Rapheal Munge in the hand and beat reporter Samuel Mburu. In July, opposition politicians from Safina were arrested while giving out trophies at a volleyball game and detained briefly. Meanwhile, KANU members continued to blatantly use government assets in their campaigns. At one KANU rally in Machakos town, food relief provided by international relief organizations for refugee populations was reportedly distributed to potential voters. The government continued to curb free speech. Journalists came under attack for writing articles critical of the government. The government refused to relinquish its monopoly on the broadcast media, severely restricting the ability of the political opposition to disseminate information while using the media to promote KANU. Sedition charges were brought in July against Finance magazine editor Njehu Gatabaki for an article critical of the government. On August 27, the premises of Fotoform Printers, which published some of the more outspoken publications, were firebombed. In the past, police raided Fotoform, shut down the printers, impounded their equipment, and charged its owner with sedition. The government unsuccessfully attempted to legislate restrictions against free speech in early 1996. Following an outcry, the government shelved proposed legislation which would have given the Minister of Information and Broadcasting extensive powers over licensing, registration and regulation of all broadcast and print media operations, and which would have allowed journalists to be jailed or barred from practicing for flouting a government-mandated code of conduct. The government continued to use the judiciary to silence critics and to punish political opponents. No progress was made during 1996 by the legal reform task forces formed by the attorney general in 1993 to amend or repeal repressive legislation. The trial of prominent opposition figure Koigi wa Wamwere, a former member of parliament and founder of a human rights organization, his brother Charles Kuria Wamwere, and G.G. Njuguna Ngengi on charges of armed robbery continued on appeal. The lower court proceeding, which resulted in a sentence of four years and six strokes of the cane in October 1995, was criticized by local and international human rights groups and bar organizations for not conforming to international standards. They remained in custody, having been denied bail. Thousands of Kenyans, predominantly from the Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya ethnic groups, remained destitute and displaced, driven off their land by state sponsored "ethnic" violence in the early 1990s. The attacks had pitted Kalenjin and Masai, the ethnic groups of the president and his ruling elite, against those ethnic groups associated with the political opposition, particularly in the Rift Valley Province. The government used the violence prior to the 1992 multiparty election to reward and empower the Kalenjin and Masai communities by allowing its members to occupy or buy land illegally in the Rift Valley Province. The redistribution of land in the fertile Rift Valley Province to government supporters strengthened the government's political and economic base. Although the large-scale violence, which characterized the ethnic persecution at the outset has diminished, periodic incidents continued. Moreover, the government did not take adequate steps to investigate reports of incitement of the violence and direct participation by government personnel, to hold the perpetrators of political killing and illegal appropriation of land responsible, to compensate the displaced, or to provide security and protection to the displaced. Many of the displaced were unable to return because of continuing acts of violence or intimidation, illegal occupation of the land by Kalenjin or Masais or fraudulent transfers of land titles. A joint Kenyan government and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project to resettle the estimated 300,000 displaced was ended after two years by UNDP in September 1995, despite the fact that thousands had not returned to their land. Throughout the duration of the UNDP program, the government consistently undermined and obstructed genuine resettlement efforts, partly through forced relocation away from the displaced's home areas. While by the end of 1996 people had returned to some areas in Nyanza and Western Provinces, in other areas in Western and Rift Valley Provinces tensions remained high and fears of renewed violence prevented return. Although UNDP claimed to have resettled some 180,000 people by September 1995, local organizations working with the displaced assert that this figure was inflated. Kenya continued to host thousands of refugees predominantly from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Government policy toward refugees, however, remained hostile and Kenyan police periodically conducted sweeps through Nairobi arresting non-Kenyans, including documented aliens and refugees. Some were held without charge for short periods in order to extort money. The Kenyan government took two positive steps in its foreign policy towards the Great Lakes region. In September, the Kenyan government arrested Obed Ruzindana, a Rwandan national charged with genocide and crimes against humanity by the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda – the first arrest in Kenya in connection with the 1994 massacres in Rwanda. The arrest was all the more significant since a number of prominent genocide perpetrators had sought asylum in Kenya and President Daniel arap Moi had previously stated that he would not cooperate with the International Tribunal. In July, Kenya joined other East and Central African countries in imposing sanctions against Burundi following a military coup in that country and in November hosted a regional meeting in response to the crisis in eastern Zaire.

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, Centre for Governance and Development, 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 (LAC), Public Law Institute, and Release Political Prisoners (RPP). The National Council of Churches of Kenya and the Catholic Church continued to assist the displaced population and to monitor ethnic persecution. Throughout the year, the government criticized the nongovernmental community in public speeches. A number of peaceful meetings were broken up by police during the year, including a civic education seminar convened by the League of Women voters, which was organized by the wife of an opposition leader. Members of RPP were particularly harassed this year. In March, RPP members who attempted to water trees at Nairobi's Uhuru park to mark the fourth anniversary of a violent confrontation to protest against political imprisonment were dispersed. On July 19, twenty-one RPP members were arrested after trying to hold a three-day cultural celebration they had organized in memory of their secretary-general, Karimi Nduthu, who was murdered in March. Under Kenyan law, cultural meetings did not require a license. On July 22, they were charged with holding an illegal meeting and possessing seditious documents that related to the death of Karimi Nduthu – namely the program for the cultural celebration. They were initially denied bail and were held for almost two weeks before being released. The charges were pending, as of November. In May, the government announced the creation of a nine-member standing Human Rights Committee to investigate violations of human rights. The government gazette mandated the committee to investigate violations of fundamental rights, alleged injustice, abuse of power, and unfair treatment of any person by public officers in the exercise of official duties. This was the second government announcement creating a human rights body. In 1995, shortly before donors met to discuss Kenya, the government announced the creation of a similar committee which never materialized. In April, the government responded for the first time to a human rights report from the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), publishing a reply accusing the KHRC of publishing an "unprofessional and mediocre" report. In June, the government restored the registration of the Centre for Law and Research International (CLARION). CLARION had been banned in 1995 following a report it published on government corruption. Another independent organization, Mwangaza Trust, closed at the same time, remained banned.

The Role of the International Community

The international community continued to mute its criticism of the government's human rights record. Since 1991, when aid to Kenya was suspended on economic and human rights grounds, donors had failed to sustain pressure for the respect of human rights and made clear to the Kenyan government that aid would be restored as long as significant steps toward economic reform were maintained. After January 1994, donors increasingly moved to renew their assistance, sending a signal that economic reforms need not be matched by political reforms. The government, in turn, complied with demands for economic reform, but continued to restrict freedom of speech, association and assembly. In March, bilateral donors pledged US$730 million to Kenya. Some of this aid had been previously pledged in 1995, but not disbursed primarily because of unhappiness over widespread corruption and the lack of economic reforms. Donors continued to pay lip service to human rights concerns, although withholding or renewal of aid remained dependent predominantly on questions of economic reform. This trend was also reflected by the multilateral lending institutions. In April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to release a $316 million loan to Kenya which had been blocked since late 1994. The IMF had expressed dissatisfaction with the government's handling of corruption and economic reform following a visit in September 1995; the release of the funding followed government steps to address donor complaints about the need for economic reform. In January, a campaign against corruption resulted in the suspension of dozens of senior civil servants and the firing of the head of the Kenya Port Authority and the minister of transport. By approving the loan, the fund signaled an end to the human rights conditions placed by the international lending institutions on the Kenyan government. The resumption of IMF aid in 1996 was expected to lead not only to the release of remaining frozen funds, but to pave the way for the resumption of aid to Kenya in the next year from bilateral donors, the World Bank and multilateral donors such as the European Union. Many bilateral donors had withheld much of the $800 million they pledged in 1994 pending the clean bill of health from the IMF.

United States

Having played a critical role in supporting human rights and the movement toward multiparty democracy during the tenure of Ambassador Smith Hempstone until 1993, U.S. influence in the democratization process diminished significantly under his successor Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal. The U.S. became less outspoken on human rights and appeared unwilling to take the lead to press for multilateral donor action. In 1996, U.S. aid to Kenya totaled $27.19 million, 90 percent of which was directed to nongovernmental sources. In September 1996, a new U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, was named. In October, Ambassador Bushnell called on the government to relinquish its monopoly of the broadcast media.
This report covers events of 1996

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