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Kenya 2010: "Ethnicity, human rights and tolerance"

Background to the project

The fourth edition of "Crossed Pens" was held in Kenya in 2010, just a few years after the violence that shook the country between 2007 and 2008 following the contested presidential election of December 2007. This human tragedy claimed close to 1,500 deaths and drove more than 300,000 people from their homes.

After a closely fought election, riots broke out in the shanty towns of Nairobi, partly over the slowness of the vote count but primarily over allegations, later corroborated, that the election had been marred by fraud. Raila Odinga, the election loser, accused re-elected President Mwai Kibaki of electoral manipulation and called on Kenyans to reject the result. This led to a further worsening of the situation.

Despite a number of calls for reconciliation, notably by President Mwai Kibaki, the African Union and the European Union, the riots continued throughout the month of February. It was only after the mediation of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the end of February 2008 and the creation of the post of prime minister for Raila Odinga that the rival factions finally signed an accord, and this period of major unrest came to an end. However, the scars remain to this day.

Although ethnic differences were to a large extent responsible for the 2007-2008 political crisis, the domestic economic situation in the country was also a factor, in particular the economic inequalities and regional disparities that existed. Geographical divisions created under various presidents prior to the events of 2007 played a significant role in heightening these disparities and the pervading sense of resentment that were to provoke the crisis.

Current human rights situation

Kenya has many problems with regard to respect for human rights, some of these stemming from the events of 2007-2008. A particular problem is the fact that crimes committed during the crisis have gone unpunished. Indeed, despite the creation of a task force set up to prosecute those guilty of violations during the events of January-February, most cases have yet to be examined, or it has been decided not to prosecute.

Another problem is the regular human rights violations by the police, and in particular police use of excessive force as well as regular recourse to arbitrary detention. Furthermore, many instances of ill treatment of inmates in Kenyan prisons have been documented. This behaviour often goes unpunished. Even the recent creation of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority does not solve the problem, mainly due to the fact that it has inadequate resources to fulfil its mandate.

The situation regarding immigration is another area of concern with regard to human rights. More than 600,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly Somali, live in camps. They are the target of discrimination and recurrent police abuse.

Lastly, although no executions have been carried out for 10 years, Kenya's criminal justice system has not abolished capital punishment, and still hands down death sentences.

Aims of the project

The aim of the "Crossed Pens" project was to show that ethnic origin, which was widely exploited during the events of 2007-2008, should not be used to justify disputes or to incite violence.