OHCHR – Report from OHCHR fact-finding mission to Kenya, 06-28 Feb 2008

Date: 28 Feb 2008

Report from OHCHR fact-finding mission to Kenya, 06-28 Feb 2008


From 6 to 28 February 2008, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights deployed a Fact-Finding Mission (OHCHR Mission) to the Republic of Kenya to look into the violence and allegations of grave human rights violations following the presidential elections in December 2007. The OHCHR Mission also analysed underlying civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights issues and formulated recommendations on possible accountability mechanisms. The OHCHR Mission conducted on-site visits to the affected areas and met with a wide range of actors in the Government, among the opposition, and met with victims, human rights defenders as well as the diplomatic community.

While most allege that violence was predominantly a spontaneous reaction to the election results, the OHCHR Mission observed that actual patterns of violence varied from one region to the next, greatly depending on region-specific dynamics. The first observed pattern of violence –most notably the burning and looting of shops, houses, commercial outlets in the slums of Nairobi and Kisumu by youth groups seemed spontaneous to most observers. According to many OHCHR Mission interlocutors it stemmed from the cumulated frustrations generated by poor living conditions and historical disenfranchisement and was triggered by the anger of opposition supporters at what they perceived as the theft of the presidential election. In a second pattern of violence, perpetrators mainly targeted communities of small farmers and land-holders perceived to be Government supporters in the Rift Valley and aimed at driving and keeping them away from the region. Credible evidence suggests that the violence was partially organized by local political and/or traditional leaders seeking to settle long-held grievances over land issues and other real and perceived discrimination. The third pattern of violence occurred slightly later and was retaliatory. Violent reprisals targeting mainly communities of migrant workers perceived to be opposition supporters, were reportedly carried out by Government supporters and militia mainly in the area of Nakuru, Naivasha, Central Province and in the slums of Nairobi (Kibera and Mathare). Altogether, the violence resulted in over one thousand deaths, hundreds of thousands of individuals being forced to flee and tens of thousands of homes, shops and businesses being destroyed and looted.

The Mission, based on its limited investigations, could not substantiate allegations of a steep increase in the number of cases of sexual violence. OHCHR is nevertheless concerned that some 322 women and girls sought hospital treatment for sexual assaults and rape during this period despite a generalized reluctance to report and the fact that many victims were displaced.(1)

While the violations of democratic rights provided the trigger for the bulk of the street violence and human rights violations, a number of underlying causes also contributed to fuelling the outburst. Violations of economic and social rights pre-existed the recent violence as evidenced in the lack of access to water, food, health, decent housing together with the rate of youth unemployment and the gross inequality reported by civil society organisations. According to UNDP, 45.9% of the Kenya population live under the threshold of absolute poverty and 20% of the population experience hunger. The colonial legacy and mismanagement of land distribution especially in the Rift Valley has generated conflict over what is often perceived as the most important form of wealth and source of political power: arable land.

Further, the Mission was told that the actual and perceived discrimination in the distribution of wealth, economic and political power amongst various communities and social segments together with the absence of adequate protection and effective remedy has fed serious grievances within the Kenyan population. Long-term observers of the Kenyan situation claim that the recurrence of politicallyinstigated violence –particularly during elections – coupled with a prevailing culture of impunity has contributed to generating a high potential for violence within Kenyan society. Many of the Mission’s interlocutors argued that the consistent failure to embrace institutional reforms – constitutional, judicial, police and civil service reform- has left the Kenyan State with a diminished ability to tackle the root causes of violence and human rights violations and little credibility that it would do so.

During recent events, the State appears to have failed to take appropriate measures to prevent or stop the violence and the human rights violations. The OHCHR Mission acknowledges that the Kenyan State faced limitations and constraints – notably inadequate human and material law-enforcement resources and that, in a number of instances, it did exert a certain level of restraint and provided last resort protection against further physical attacks to the fleeing population, notably in police stations. Further, the highly polarized environment resulting from the violence together with widespread lack of trust towards State institutions fostered suspicions and rumours over most of the measures Government authorities have undertaken to respond to the crisis, rendering its management even more complex.

Nevertheless, the findings of the OHCHR Mission indicate that the State failed to take all appropriate measures to meet its obligations to protect the rights of its citizens to life and physical integrity, property, democratic rights, freedom of expression, assembly and movement. In most districts, the police was unable to maintain and enforce law and order. Most of the victims and witnesses recount that during the attacks, the police were often present but were either overwhelmed or passive. In some instances, police officers were even alleged to have taken active part in the violence. The OHCHR Mission received detailed information from witnesses that in various places, most notably in Kibera slum area of Nairobi, Eldoret and Kisumu, the policing of demonstrations and crowds was conducted with excessive use of force resulting in death and injuries of many, including children. According to the Government’s own figures, ten percent of the killings were carried out by the police. Also, the OHCHR Mission notes that the ban on both live broadcast and peaceful assembly were unconstitutional and illegally deprived Kenyans of important civil and political rights.

The Government and the opposition have agreed on a political framework to address the post-election violence: the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation. According to the agreement, the final goal of that political dialogue is to achieve sustainable peace, stability and justice through the rule of law and respect for human rights. Within the mentioned framework the parties have made important commitments to address long-standing issues such as land reform, police and judicial reform, socioeconomic inequalities, corruption, accountability and the disarmament of militias. It will be essential that these commitments are adhered to.

Full report 

Source: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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