The human rights situation in Kenya is growing steadily worse, officials of Amnesty International said Wednesday as they launched a new worldwide campaign to force change in this East African state.
The Kenyan government regularly violates the civil liberties of citizens by thwarting protest rallies, arbitrarily arresting people and treating prisoners inhumanely, the London-based human rights group said. It warned that Kenya could lose its position as a stable environment for investment and development in the region.
The organization called on the international donor community to hold the government of Kenya’s President Daniel Arap Moi responsible for the abuses.
Amnesty International said it will mobilize its million-strong membership in a publicity campaign that will seek to end restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Kenya and pressure the government to honor human rights commitments it has made but failed to respect.
The campaign comes at a time when Kenya is besieged by a host of political and economic pressures and has become the focus of international criticism as it heads toward presidential elections later this year.
In recent weeks, the government has been penalized by international donors for widespread corruption and criticized for excessive use of force against political opponents. In addition, a spate of killings that has claimed at least 50 lives in the country’s coastal region is seriously undermining Kenya’s tourism industry, which brought in $465 million last year.
Amnesty said its main concerns in Kenya include police brutality and killings; arbitrary arrests and delayed justice; systematic discrimination against women; the harassment and intimidation of the government’s political opponents, journalists and activists; and the restriction of free association and expression.
Amnesty officials said the international community and influential world leaders have the power and responsibility to pressure Moi to clean up his act.
“We believe that international human rights monitors are needed now to protect the rights of Kenyans,” said Hilary Fisher, a researcher for the human rights group’s East Africa team. “We are asking others to target their own governments to inform their local population as to what is happening in Kenya.”
The Moi government had no immediate reaction to the launch of the campaign, although Fisher said it has been informed of Amnesty’s plans. Meanwhile, leaders of the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC)--a loose alliance of political opposition groups, civil rights activists and clergy--vowed to step up their domestic campaign for constitutional and administrative reforms.
For about six months, the reformists have been demonstrating and sponsoring strikes to seek the repeal of 12 laws, some dating to the British colonial era, that limit freedom of speech and assembly and permit indefinite detention without trial.
Opposition leaders also maintain that election laws favor the ruling Kenya African National Union party and Moi, who has ruled Kenya for 19 years and is seeking a fifth five-year term. An election date has not been announced.
The NCEC has urged Kenyans to observe general strikes Sept. 18 and 19, and Oct. 8 and 9. A protest rally also is planned for Oct. 10, the day Moi is scheduled to publicly commemorate taking office in 1978--a display of disrespect for President’s Day that is expected to lead to confrontation.
The ruling party has agreed to hold talks with some opposition leaders but not NCEC supporters.