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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kenya's new breed of refugees

Kenya is steadily contributing to the refugee population in the most unusual fashion. Besides the Kenyans who fled to Uganda due to the post-election violence, a new category is leaving the country or going underground.

Early last week, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions wrote to Kenya asking that the government stop systematically intimidating people who defend human rights. As it were, 20 human rights defenders have had to go into hiding at home or in exile because they spoke to the UN special rapporteur, Prof Philip Alston, or have knowledge of evidence that would reveal serious crimes that have been committed in Kenya. They have received threatening phone messages, or visits from the security forces to them or their families.

The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions wrote to Kenya asking that the government stop systematically intimidating people who defend human rights.
Now, Prof Alston says the behaviour of the police and the military towards his fact-finding mission violated the most basic rules: “Non-cooperation with a UN mission is one thing,” says a statement from Prof Alston’s office, “but making threats against those who have provided information to the UN, as well as harassing their families, is quite another.”

Since his report – asking the President to make a statement on extrajudicial killings – two human rights workers have been shot dead in yet unresolved circumstances. The government has not taken up offer of help in investigations from the FBI. Mid last week, former Kabete MP Paul Muite joined the long list of those who say they have been threatened. A small word of caution to the government and the security forces: Prof Alston’s hard-hitting comments were only part of a preliminary report. If you over-react now, what will you do when the final report is released, perhaps later this month?

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