Kenya’s leader urges peace ahead of vote as tensions rise

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta
Updated 22 October 2017
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Kenya’s leader urges peace ahead of vote as tensions rise

NAIROBI: President Uhuru Kenyatta urged Kenyans to remain peaceful ahead of Thursday’s fresh presidential election, while a witness said police shot and wounded at least one person amid a rise in ethnic tensions in the capital, Nairobi.
A resident of the low-income Lucky Summer neighborhood said tensions grew after members of Kenyatta’s ethnic Kikuyu community performed a ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep. Some residents interpreted it as a war ceremony. Others said it was a ceremony to recruit members of the Mungiki, a proscribed quasi-religious gang known for beheadings that has been used in past elections to attack supporters of the opposition, Sheila Kariuki said.
Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga went to the site of the ceremony and police shot at them when an argument started, Kariuki said. Running battles between stone-throwing residents ensued until local legislator Tom Kajwang arrived and calmed the Odinga supporters, Kariuki said.
Kajwang condemned the police for allowing the meeting to occur.
“This is intimidation that we won’t allow. This is aimed at provoking us and we will protect ourselves,” he said.
Area police chief Alice Kimeli confirmed that police had shot one person and said the group performing the ceremony had asked for police protection.
Kenyatta’s re-election in August was nullified by the Supreme Court, citing irregularities, and a fresh election was ordered. Tensions have increased ahead of Thursday’s vote, which Odinga has said he is boycotting because the electoral commission has not made the reforms he seeks.
One member of Kenya’s electoral commission has resigned, and its chairman has said it will be difficult to guarantee that the new vote will be credible.
Human rights groups have accused Kenyatta’s government of using police to clamp down on dissent. Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week said police killed at least 67 opposition supporters in demonstrations after the results of the August vote were announced.
Violence has followed some previous elections. During a prayer meeting on Sunday, Kenyatta said the country narrowly avoided plunging into civil war after the flawed 2007 election, when more than 1,000 people were killed. Kenyatta was charged with orchestrating that violence, but the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) dropped the charges while citing threats to witnesses, bribery and interference.
Without citing the election, Pope Francis on Sunday spoke of his hopes for Kenya, telling faithful in St. Peter’s Square that the nation was in his thoughts.
“I am following, with particular attention, Kenya, which I visited in 2015, and for which I pray so that all the country will know how to face the current difficulties in a climate of constructive dialogue, having at heart the search for the common good,” the pope said.


Nations defend UN Human Rights Council after US pullout

Empty seats of the United States delegation are pictured one day after the US announced their withdraw during a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday. (REUTERS)
Updated 51 min 16 sec ago
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Nations defend UN Human Rights Council after US pullout

  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry had earlier accused the US of “gross cynicism” and “disregard” for the UN
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US withdrawal

GENEVA: Diplomats from across the globe defended the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday after the US withdrew from a body it branded an anti-Israel “cesspool.”
Slovenian ambassador Vojislav Suc, who currently holds the council’s rotating presidency and has been pushing a faltering reform drive, described the Geneva-based chamber as the best place to trigger action on dangerous rights crises.
“Let me say it very clearly, if human rights issues are not discussed here, in this very room, they have little chance to be dealt with meaningfully anywhere else,” he told the council’s 38th session, hours after Washington announced its pullout.
Suc further praised the 47-member council as the “only intergovernmental body responding to human rights issues and situations worldwide.”
Once he receives formal notification of the US withdrawal, Suc said he would arrange for the American seat to be removed and work with the General Assembly to elect a replacement member. China, which has on multiple occasions voiced support for multilateral institutions abandoned by US President Donald Trump, portrayed the council as “a major body... to promote the realization of human rights.”
“All delegations attach great importance to this body,” said Chinese ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Yu Jianhua.
China currently sits on the council and rights groups have repeatedly criticized Beijing for seeking to stifle criticism of its own conduct.
The EU assured that it “remains steadfastly and reliably committed to the Human Rights Council,” and said it would continue to try to fix the body’s problems despite the US withdrawal.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry had earlier accused the US of “gross cynicism” and “disregard” for the UN.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN ambassador Nikki Haley announced the decision on Wednesday, making good on a threat Haley made in Geneva a year ago.
They said their calls for change, notably to fix “hypocrisy” and “unrelenting bias” against Israel were ignored.
Membership of the council, established in 2006 to replace the disgraced Human Rights Commission, has long been controversial.
Current members include Burundi, the Philippines and Venezuela — all nations accused of massive abuses against civilians.
But the main US objection was the council’s Agenda Item 7, which mandates discussion of Israel at each of the three annual sessions.
Israel is the only country recorded as a dedicated agenda item.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US withdrawal, experts and diplomats have noted that without US pushback, resolutions approving investigations of Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories could multiply.