East Africa: Recent Human Rights Documents, 4/28/98

East Africa: Recent Human Rights Documents, 4/28/98

East Africa: Recent Human Rights Documents
Date distributed (ymd): 980428
Document reposted by APIC

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Region: East Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a recent press release on the human rights situation in Kenya from Amnesty International, Article 19 and Human Rights Watch, and a press release from Amnesty International on abuses against freedom of the press in Ethiopia.A supplementary note indicates sources on the Web for additional information from the three organizations.

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Correction: In the posting of April 23, 1998, the URL for Secretary-General Annan's report was mistyped.The correct address is:



Press release Amnesty International, Article 19 and Human Rights Watch

(NAIROBI, 8 April) - A coalition of three major human rights groups today called Kenya "a powder keg waiting to explode" and warned the government to stop using "divide and rule" tactics that are likely to plunge the country deeper into violence.

The delegation of three groups, Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch, interviewed more than 200 people from all sections of Kenyan society, including survivors of violent incidents as well as Kenyan government officials.The joint mission was sent in the wake of waning international attention to continuing human rights violations in Kenya, reflecting the seriousness with which the organizations view the situation.

The delegation found the situation particularly serious in the Rift Valley, where killings continue sporadically after the recent mass attacks.More than 100 people have been killed and thousands displaced since the latestviolence began in January 1998.

"Kenya is a powder keg waiting to explode, all the signs are there" said Edge Kanyongolo, a spokesperson for the delegation, speaking at a press conference today in Nairobi. "The downward spiral of violence and ethnic hatred is resulting in increasing human rights violations, and will not end until the government stops using divide and rule tactics."

Survivors of violence in the area describe an ongoing "war" in which members of previously mixed communities attack each other with arrows and pangas (machetes).In the first wave of incidents, in Laikipia, guns were also used.

Many survivors are afraid to return to their homes, citing the lack of security in the area and the apparent unwillingness of the authorities to prevent further attacks.The government has systematically failed to investigate and punish armed aggressors, and to protect frightened, angry and displaced people.The human rights delegation expressed fears that the supporters of the ruling party are instigating political violence, but blaming the incidents on spontaneous outbursts of ethnic hatred.

Statements like the following, from one survivor, were common and emphasize that unless the root causes of violence are addressed, people will not return to their homes.He stated that "when we try to visit our homes, we receive warnings such as "even if you till, you are just doing useless things.Even after planting, you will not eat"".Some one else expressed a common sentiment: "My fear is not even for the past or the present but for the future".

This violence follows the pattern established in 1991-94, the delegation said, in which supporters of the ruling party, KANU, attacked members of ethnic groups considered to support the political opposition. In that violence, high-ranking government involvement was proven.This time, compelling evidence suggests that the initial attacks were organized from outside the communities. Attacks occurred only in areas where the opposition Democratic Party (DP) won seats.Violence began within days of KANU politicians visiting the area and verbally threatening DP supporters, who had recently mounted a legal challenge to the presidential election results.

This violence is not occurring in a vacuum.Demands for a system of political pluralism, specifically an inclusive constitutional process, are answered by calls from members of the ruling party to introduce a system of ethnic federalism (Majimboism).There is concern that the manner in which the system is being proposed could be used to stip certain ethnic groups of their rights.

In 1998, the delegation found some worrying new developments, including an increasing use of more sophisticated weapons, and a new tendency to target women for rape and killing.Old people and children are not spared.

The delegation also noted that 1998 was the first time that members of the Kikuyu community retaliated to attacks in an organized fashion, following the failure of the government to act.Subsequently the wave of violence slowed to a trickle, reinforcing calls within that community for armed retaliation to achieve security.

There is an ongoing problem all over Kenya with access to accurate and affordable information, particularly in rural areas.The delegation concluded that this information void provides a fertile ground for acceptance of rumour as fact, and that, reconciliation in such an atmosphere is impossible. The cheapness and availability of firearms can only exacerbate the cycle of revenge.

The delegation concluded that since 1991, when the government was forced to introduce a multiparty system, it has actively undermined freedom of expression and contributed to and promoted a culture of impunity and growing violence, with the aim of undermining genuine and meaningful reforms. Pressure for reforms is continually met with a combination of sticks and carrots, in the form of brutal state violence tempered by promises of change.

Most recently demands for an open and inclusive process of constitutional reform have provoked government threats to deregister non-governmental organizations, and serious harassment of human rights activists.

Despite interventions by the international community on human rights issues in the lead-up to the elections in December 1997, momentum has not been sustained.Small concessions by the Kenyan government, often not carried through, have been hailed as major steps forward, missing the ongoing pattern of government unwillingness to promote and protect the rights of all its citizens regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation.

Kenya is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch call on the Kenyan government to prevent future human rights violations, hold perpetrators of such violations accountable and defend freedom of speech, association and assembly.The international community should increase pressure on the Kenyan government to uphold its national and international legal obligations and should closely monitor any promised reforms using clearly articulated benchmarks.

Amnesty International


Journalists in prison - press freedom under attack



The Ethiopian Government has recently intensified its attacks against the private press, which have put it at the forefront of repression of the press in Africa, despite its claim to welcome a free and critical press.

There are currently 16 journalists in prison in Addis Ababa. More than 200 editors and reporters from the new independent private press have been arrested at various times since 1993, nearly all of them for writing or publishing articles critical of the government. They were detained under the 1992 Press Law which, with its vaguely-defined criminal offences, has paved the way to harsh government-supported action by police and courts.

Most of the 16 detained journalists have been held for some months without being formally charged. Two are serving prison sentences of between one and two years. In 1998 so far there have been at least 14 new arrests, including an unprecedented attack on one newspaper, Tobia -- four journalists and six administrative staff were arrested and the office was burned down by unidentified arsonists -- while three journalists on Urji newspaper have been charged with armed conspiracy. Over a dozen journalists have fled the country.

Amnesty International considers most of the detained journalists as prisoners of conscience imprisoned on account of the peaceful expression of their opinions and their professional activities as journalists.

There is no open ban on newspapers or journalists in Ethiopia and the government has tolerated much critical and sometimes offensive or ill-informed reporting by the private press. But there is a deliberate pattern of suppression of the private press and the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association. In contrast, the state press and the official Ethiopian Journalists Association defend the Press Law and avoid criticising the government.

The Press Law, heralded as a "Proclamation to Provide for the Freedom of the Press", has been used as a weapon against press criticism. Its vaguely-defined criminal offences of "incitement of conflict between peoples" and "publishing false information", together with other laws on defamation and "spreading false rumours", have led to contraventions of international standards relating to press freedom (particularly Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The right to freedom of expression has been unduly restricted by these new and old laws and by their harsh application by the police and courts. The balance between the freedom of the press and its responsibilities has been lost.

The government has rejected the consistent international criticisms of the attacks on press freedom which have been made by western donor governments, media associations and human rights groups. It has refused so far to change the Press Law or its application, denying that it is being oppressive.

There have been other violations against detained journalists. Not only are they often detained unlawfully after their arrest, serious questions arise over their treatment in custody and the fairness of the court hearings and trials -- they are denied confidential access to legal counsel, for example.

The report concludes with recommendations and calls on the Ethiopian authorities to immediately release all journalists who are prisoners of conscience, ensure that journalists can practise their profession without fear of arbitrary detention, and revise the Press Law to conform to the Constitution's commitment to freedom of the press and to international standards of freedom of expression.

This summarizes a 16-page document(6,244words): ETHIOPIA: Journalists in prison - press freedom under attack(AI Index: AFR 25/10/98), issued by Amnesty International in April 1998. Anyone wishing further details or to take action on this issue should consult the full document.



Africa Information from AI, HRW and Article 19 on the Web:

Amnesty International

Press Releases from Amnesty International on Africa are archived at:

More general information from Amnesty International: and

1997 Kenya report from Amnesty International:

E-mail addresses for Amnesty International Sections:

Human Rights Watch (,,

There is no Africa-specific section on the Human Rights Watch web site ( The Human Rights gopher site (gopher://, containing material for some countries through mid-1997, is apparently no longer being updated.However, publication summaries and some publications are available on-line and can be located at or through the search function on the site.

The March 1998 report on Clinton Administration Policy and Human Rights in Africa (, includes sections on Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.

Article 19, the International Centre Against Censorship (

The Article 19 web site ( has background information about the organization.

Alerts from Article 19 and allied organizations around the world are available at the site of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House (


Date: Tue, 28 Apr 1998 10:00:15 -0500 Subject: East Africa: Recent Human Rights Documents

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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