A group of 14 independent United Nations human rights experts on issues ranging from racism to sexual violence to freedom of belief today voiced deep concern at the growing inter-ethnic conflict in Kenya, citing the deaths of dozens of civilians, including children and women, after a mob set fire to a church where they had taken sanctuary.
"In this regard, we are profoundly alarmed by the reports of incitement to racial hatred and the growing frictions between the different ethnic groups," the experts said in a statement, calling on all sides to rapidly end the violence that erupted after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner over opposition leader Raila Odinga in the country’s recent elections.
In the light of historical precedents in the region, we strongly appeal to the Kenyan authorities, as well as political, ethnic and religious leaders, to put an end to what may become the dynamics of inter-ethnic killings, while also calling upon the international community, including the United Nations Security Council, to fulfil its responsibilities in this regard," they added.
Rwanda, to the west of Kenya, was the scene of genocide in 1994, when ethnic Hutu extremists massacred some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis has also killed hundreds of thousands of people over the past four decades in Burundi, Rwanda’s southern neighbour.
In a litany of "great concern," the experts cited the tragic loss of life, the massive displacement, especially in the Rift Valley, which threatens enjoyment of the right to food, health, housing and education, and reports of gang rapes and the attendant likelihood of HIV infection.
They also noted reported curbs on free expression, in particular a ban prohibiting live coverage of events. "While we recognize the prerogative and duty of the Kenyan authorities to maintain public order, we are, however, alarmed by reported instances of use of excessive force by Kenyan security forces against demonstrators and other civilians," they added.
"We urge the incumbent Kenyan authorities to take all necessary steps and measures to bring an end to the present situation, including by addressing appropriately questions raised with regard to the latest election results. We also call upon the leaders of political parties to show restraint and control over their followers and supporters."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already deplored the violence that has reportedly claimed more than 300 lives and displaced or otherwise affected more than 100,000 others, and UN agencies are helping to provide humanitarian aid. Mr. Ban said today he had spoken by phone to President Kibaki.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) will shortly provide food through the Kenya Red Cross for 100,000 people displaced in the Northern Rift Valley.
"The biggest problem is the difficulty for trucks carrying WFP food to reach areas in western Kenya," the agency said today, noting that virtually all movement of food both for western Kenya and the entire region, including Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was frozen for days because of insecurity.
Some 200 trucks were loaded with WFP food in the Kenyan port of Mombasa from a ship that arrived over Christmas carrying 30,000 metric tons – enough to feed 1.5 million people for a month – for Uganda, southern Sudan, Somalia and the eastern DRC. The food for Somalia will be sent by sea, but the rest has to go by land.
Some trucks left Mombasa but then were stranded because of insecurity on main roads and checkpoints set up by vigilantes in western Kenya. Fifteen trucks are stranded in or near Nairobi, 60 in Mombasa and others in Eldoret, near the site of the church massacre. Each truck carries 34 tons of food. "WFP is holding urgent talks to resolve this issue and get food to those who need it in Kenya and elsewhere," the agency said.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is also working with the Kenya Red Cross to send essential supplies to children affected by the violence, and has said it is ready to assist up to 85,000 people with shelter and non-food items.