01 August 2009

Sec Clinton: Please Listen

Rights watchdog asks Clinton to be tough on Kenya

By Wangui Kanina
NAIROBI, July 31 (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to warn Kenya's government that the U.S. may impose sanctions against individual perpetrators of last year's post-election violence.

Clinton visits Kenya and six other African nations next week to show that the continent is a priority for President Barack Obama's administration despite challenges from a financial crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kenya's divided cabinet failed on Thursday to come up with mechanisms to set up a special tribunal to try masterminds of the clashes in which 1,300 people were killed and more then 300,000 uprooted.
Instead, President Mwai Kibaki said the government would embark on reforming the judiciary so that the planners of the worst violence in Kenya's post-independence history could be tried under the country's laws.

"We ask you to publicly state that the U.S. may consider the imposition of targeted sanctions including travel bans against those deemed most responsible for serious human rights violation," HRW said in an open letter to Clinton.

Politicians stoked tribal tensions prior to the last election, and activists say a handful of prominent Kenyans -- including several sitting ministers -- should face justice.

Foreign donors, disillusioned Kenyans and local markets -- which bombed during last year's crisis and have been jittery over coalition divisions -- are following the debate closely.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) is ready to step in if the government does not create a special tribunal.
"The cabinet reneged on its commitment...having earlier told the ICC that it would either establish a special tribunal to deal with suspects or refer the cases to the ICC," HRW said.

While some see justice for the 2008 chaos as crucial to future stability in east Africa's largest economy -- which faces its next poll in 2012 -- others warn any judicial process could destabilise Kenya by stirring up old hatreds.

"Given that senior politicians and government officials stand accused of grave crimes, all sides acknowledge that existing mechanisms are not sufficiently independent to the task," Human Rights Watch said.
Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga support a local tribunal but the majority of Kenyans want the ICC to take the case because they have no faith in the country's judiciary.

In a statement the National Council of Churches of Kenya, an umbrella church group, urged the cabinet, the president and prime minister to resign to pave way for new elections.

"Your admission that the judiciary, police and investigative arms of government are incompetent is the final confirmation that Kenya is close to becoming a failed state," the statement said referring to the two leaders.

"We call upon you to honourably resign and allow Kenyans to choose a new leadership that will steer this country away from impunity and the high potential of national collapse." (Editing by Diana Abdallah)