Kenya: Protest the death threats against human rights defenders

Women Living Under Muslim Laws is gravely concerned to learn of death threats brought against our friend and colleague, Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki. She and her colleagues have been receiving death threats because of their human rights work and statements during the current crisis in Kenya.
Death threats have been made against Kenyan human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists including:

· Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director of Kenya Human Rights Commission
· Maina Kiai, Chairman of Kenya National Commission for Human Rights
· Haroun Ndubi, human rights lawyer, member of Kenya Domestic Observers Forum
· David Ndii, author of report on electoral irregularities
· Gladwell Otieno, Director of Africa Centre for Open Government
· Ndung'u Wainaina, staff member of National Convention Executive Council
· Njeri Kabeberi, Executive Director of the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy
· Nahashon Gachehe, employee of Independent Medico-Legal Unit
· James Maina, member of People's Parliament (Bunge La Mwananchi)

They have received threats by SMS message, telephone call and email because they have spoken out publicly about the results of the Kenyan election or about human rights abuses that have occurred during the violence following the elections. According to an alert issued by Amnesty-USA, a pamphlet was also distributed naming four of the people above, as well as more than 20 others, as “traitors” to the Kikuyu community and containing veiled threats that they should be killed.

The following is a recent article by Muthoni Wanyeki on the state of affairs in Kenya

"Don't give in to climate of fear"

By: L MUTHONI WANYEKI

Lives have been lost and continue to be lost. Women have been raped — many of whom find themselves now forced into transactional sex to obtain basic goods and services within the internally displaced camps all over the country. Livelihoods have been destroyed. We are all being forced into a situation of feeling secure only where our ancestors happened to originate. And fear is growing. Day by day.

We held our breath as the mediation process was launched. We are still holding it. A new form of violence has emerged. We whisper the question: were the murders of two Orange Democratic Movement parliamentarians political assassinations? The propaganda war intensifies.

Part of the propaganda war has to do with naming the violence. The term "genocide" is invoked — ignoring the fact that genocide includes elements of state complicity. The term "ethnic cleansing" is thrown around loosely. Both terms heighten the fear.

Yes, there are historical grievances that need to be addressed. Yes, there are contemporary experiences of exclusion and persistent inequalities that also need to be addressed. And, most importantly, yes, the victims — and survivors — of the current violence have experienced and understand that violence to be the result of their ethnicity. But the violence is politically-instigated. And it finds ethnic expression or manifests itself ethnically because our politics are organised ethnically.

There are now four forms of violence in the country. First, the violence resulting from disorganised and spontaneous protests at the announcement of the disputed presidential result. This form of violence has largely died down (or been suppressed). Second, and most critically, violence resulting from organised militia activity — beginning most horrendously in the Rift Valley, but now spreading out from Nairobi and Central. Third, violence by the police force and the General Service Unit's extraordinary use of force, including extrajudicial killings, primarily in Nyanza.

And fourth, violence resulting from communal vigilantism — catalysed by the perceived need for self-defence and security, but also by the receipt of IDPs by families and communities in Nairobi and Central.

All forms of violence are completely, utterly unacceptable. All forms of violence must be condemned. And, importantly, accountability must be sought for all forms of violence. There can be no impunity.

But seeking accountability requires the painstaking work of investigation, documentation and evidence collection — particularly with respect to the organised militia activity. We all have initial findings and preliminary information. But that is not enough. Which is why the propaganda war must stop.

Surely we can see both the intent and the consequences now of the propaganda we all engaged in, abandoning all ethics, morals and principles, during the campaign period? It is not enough to say that elders and politicians incited violence. We all did. Not only from campaign podiums and vernacular radio stations, but also, damagingly, through our interpersonal communications — via SMS, e-mail and the Internet. Surely we can see now that this was exactly what we were all being led to?

Calling for peace is not enough. We will only slide into civil war if we cannot see through this. We must resist the fear, name the problem accurately and desist from the build up to the declaration of a state of emergency or the deployment of the military or, worse, the usurpation of civilian governance by military governance. We must demand that the organised militia activity stop. We must demand that the police and the General Service Unit focus on ensuring that it does as well as protecting the IDPs. The mediation process has too much at stake for us all to be compromised now. We have lost too much as it is.

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L. Muthoni Wanyeki is an activist, writer and human rights defender. She is the Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the former Executive Director of the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), and a member of the Coordinating Group of the Feminist Dialogues.

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