Evidence Kenyan Killings Were Planned, Says Rights Group

Human Rights Watch calls the post-election violence in Kenya that has killed at least 600 people and left more than 300,000 displaced "planned and organized" by opposition party officials and local community elders.

"The attacks targeting mostly Kikuyu and Kissi people in and around the town of Eldoret could continue unless the government and opposition act to stop the violence," the humanitarian group said Friday in a statement.

The Rift Valley in Kenya has seen some of the worst ethnic violence since the announcement of President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election last month. Fifty people, mostly children, taking refuge in a church in Eldoret were reportedly burned to death when a gang from a rival tribe set the church on fire.

The Human Rights Watch preliminary report cites a pro-opposition preacher, who claims that a local leader from the Orange Democratic Movement, also known as ODM, "called a meeting and said that war had broken in Eldoret town, so the elders organized the youth into groups … and they went to loot [Kikuyu] homes and burn them down."

"Our research indicates … that ODM officials were involved with the violence on some level, and they may have some ability to curb them," said Leslie Lefkow, who heads Human Rights Watch's East Africa division.

ODM spokesman Salim Lone disputes the allegations. "We respect HRW, and they are a very credible organization, but we would very much like for them to provide us with some concrete evidence of their claims," said Lone. "We know there was a lot of killing in the Rift Valley, but to say the killings were premeditated and organized is going too far without providing evidence."

Lefkow said that Human Rights Watch plans to release the full report detailing its investigation in the coming weeks. "I think there are clearly ethnic elements in the violence that's taking place in Kenya. For our part, we need to look through the findings and find out the source of that violence," said Lefkow

Lone says that ODM and its leader Raila Odinga have repeatedly called for nonviolent protests and says that if they see evidence of a member being involved in ethnic killing, the party will address it. "If we discovered evidence that there were really ODM leaders who were inciting their people to kill innocent members of other communities, we would not want such leaders to be part of ODM."

The Kenyan government has maintained that ODM has been responsible for the post-election violence. "It is what we've been saying from the very beginning" said government spokesman Alfred Mutua. "These ethnic killings were planned."

This report is the latest in a series by Human Rights Watch criticizing both the opposition and the state of committing human rights violations against the Kenyan people. Two weeks ago, the group issued a statement calling for the end of excessive police violence, particularly in the western town of Kisumu, an ODM, stronghold. Police there were reportedly issued a "shoot-to-kill" order, resulting in the shooting of more than 100 protesters.

As both Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki had their first face-to-face meeting yesterday since the election, Lefkow said there is plenty of blame to go around for Kenya's turmoil.

"There's responsibility and blame that can be apportioned on all sides," said Lefkow.

"Looking forward, it's essential that politicians across the spectrum unite in condemning the violence, in calling on their supporters to act nonviolently, and that they also unite in calling for accountability for the abuses and crimes to be investigated and to be accounted for."