By PATRICK MAYOYO
& OUR REPORTER
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has commended the peaceful voting in the recent presidential election in Kenya but urged Kenya’s political leaders “to take the responsible path and exercise their leadership to avoid violence.”
The UN Human Rights chief today expressed concern about reports that Kenyan security forces used live ammunition against protesters, and about reports of police brutality, leading to several deaths and injuries, including of children.
Although the Kenyan police reported having recorded less than 10 shooting deaths in the aftermath of the contested polls, independent observers and the opposition place the death toll much higher – in some pronouncements in excess of 100.
Protests erupted after the announcement of results on August 11, with instances of individuals resorting to stone throwing, looting and destruction of property.
“Kenya is at a critical juncture,” Al Hussein said. “The country’s political leaders must do their utmost to calm a volatile political climate. If there are claims to make about the conduct of the elections, they should be made through constitutional and legal means.”
“People have the right to assemble and protest peacefully, and the authorities have a responsibility to ensure they can do so. The government also has a responsibility to ensure that security forces prioritise dialogue, non-violent means and exercise restraint, using proportionate force only when unavoidable,” Al Hussein said.
“Protesters should never resort to violence and political leaders should send clear messages to their supporters urging peaceful conduct. All acts of violence, including the serious allegations of excessive use of force by security forces, must be promptly and independently investigated,” he added.
As part of that effort, the High Commissioner called on the Kenyan government to make an immediate announcement that it will cooperate fully and unequivocally with the Independent Policing Oversight Authority and with subsequent efforts to ensure accountability.
The global human rights mandarin also expressed deep concern that Kenya’s NGO Coordination Board on Tuesday, August 15 called for a prominent NGO, the African Centre for Open Governance to be shut down and for its directors and members to be arrested.
This comes after yesterday’s decision by the NGO Coordination Board to de-register another well-respected NGO, the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
It is not yet clear if the deregistration had anything to do with the organisation’s bold and independent comments about how the authorities have conducted themselves in respect to the elections. But the High Commissioner called for civil society actors and media to be allowed to work without hindrance or fear of retaliation.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission and the African Centre for Open Governance both condemned the killings by security forces.
Although independent observers think a purge is underway, the Kenyan government claims it shut down the commission for not allegedly not paying taxes and misusing funds.
The underlying ethnic tensions, protests and sporadic violence which have hit the country recall the post-election mayhem which exploded in Kenya in 2007/08 after opposition leader Raila Odinga disputed the election results, saying that the poll was fixed to keep incumbent, Mwai Kibaki i power at his expense. At least 1,100 people were slaughter then with hundreds of thousands being forced to flee for their lives.
Similar, if not as extreme, scenes played out in 2013 when Odinga charged that like Kibaki before him, President Uhuru Kenyatta had stolen the election.
International peace brokers, including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, have at various times been asked to mediate between the parties to avert the possibility of the country suffering even more bloodshed.