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EU piles pressure on Kenya over poll trials

Monday July 27 2009

Besides the human toll, property of unknown value was destroyed during the post election violence. Photo/FILE

Besides the human toll, property of unknown value was destroyed during the post election violence. Photo/FILE 

By BERNARD NAMUNANE

The European Union on Monday told the Kenyan Government to quickly form a special tribunal to try election violence suspects.

In a critical and wide ranging assessment of the Grand Coalition, the EU council of ministers asked Kenyan politicians to stop divisive talk and speed up reforms to protect Kenya from election upheavals in future.

The meeting, in Brussels, Belgium, said the slow pace of reforms — caused by lack of political will — could hurt the country. The EU, however, said it was ready to help in the reforms.

Increase pressure

The EU is one of Kenya’s most significant trading and development partners and its ministers’ statement will increase pressure on the Kenyan Government to act against those who organised or funded the post-election violence in 1,133 people were killed and another 650,000 displaced from their homes and property of unknown value destroyed.

“It (EU) considers that prompt implementation of the agreed reforms are of critical importance for reconciliation, nation-building, development and prevention of further conflict in Kenya,” said the statement.

The renewed pressure comes at a time when the Cabinet is divided over how the suspects should be tried. Though President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have tried to unite Cabinet ministers to back a local tribunal, there is little evidence that their efforts have borne fruit.

Some ministers support a special tribunal but say it must meet standards set by the International Criminal Court — which includes stripping the President of immunity against prosecution.

Others want suspects to be tried at The Hague while a third group would like to only appear before the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

The Cabinet has failed twice to reach an agreement. It meets again this Thursday to try and strike a compromise in the face of local and international pressure.

US President Barack Obama has expressed his misgivings about reforms and last month chose to visit Ghana, which has made more progress in building a stable democracy.

Besides the human toll, property of unknown value destroyed in the violence. The movement of cargo to the region was also disrupted, affecting the economies of Kenya’s neighbours, a factor alluded to by the EU ministers.

They said reforms were important not just for Kenya’s sake, but for regional stability. “The council calls for the establishment of a credible, independent, constitutionally protected local special tribunal to end the impunity of perpetrators of the post-election violence,” the EU ministers said.

They supported the decision by chief mediator Kofi Annan to hand over the secret list of violence masterminds to ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

“The council also welcomes the Kenyan authorities’ cooperation with the International Criminal Court and fully supports Kofi Annan’s efforts to facilitate results,” they said.

Under the agreement, signed by ministers Mutula Kilonzo, James Orengo and Attorney General Amos Wako, the Kenyan Government will ask the ICC to take over the prosecution if laws establishing the local tribunal are not enacted by end of September.

Similar urgency, the EU ministers said, should be applied to constitutional, judicial and police reforms which are detailed in the National Accord signed by President Kibaki and Mr Odinga on February 28, last year, to end nearly two months of violence.

Even though some measures have been taken such as setting up of taskforces and commissions, the EU ministers said the Kenyan Government should move with greater speed “with priority given to comprehensive constitutional reform, electoral reform, police and judicial reform as well as enhanced measures to put an end to impunity for crimes related to violence and corruption.”

The ministers, who were also critical of Kenya’s human rights record, called for action against those guilty of violating the freedoms of others.

“The council expresses its deep concern over reports of human rights violations and threats against human rights defenders as well as reports on extrajudicial killings.

Unlawful killings

“It calls upon the government to promptly investigate and bring to justice all perpetrators of unlawful killings, including perpetrators within the security forces,” their statement said.

Even if the Cabinet agrees on a local tribunal, it faces an uphill task in getting the necessary laws passed in Parliament, which has rejected a similar law in the past.