26 February 1998


Commonwealth should put Kenya on red list; strongarm Nigerian regime

Incident details


(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - ARTICLE 19 is calling for the Commonwealth Ministerial
Action Group (CMAG), meeting 2-3 March 1998 in London, to add Kenya to its
list of serious and persistent human rights offenders (currently Nigeria,
Sierra Leone and the Gambia), and to take measures which would put serious
pressure on the Nigerian regime.1 Article 19's concerns include freedom of
expression violations in these countries.

The ample grounds for Kenya to be placed under CMAG's special scrutiny
including the following:

  • The run-up to December's presidential and parliamentary elections was
    characterized by violence and intimidation, most seriously when tens of
    thousands of people were driven from their homes in the Coast province and
    thereby disenfranchised. Numerous investigations by human rights groups,
    churches and even a 1992 UK Parliamentary Select Committee, have attributed
    prime responsibility for such violence to the government and ruling party.

  • Since the elections, dozens of people, mainly presumed opposition
    supporters, have died in politically motivated violence in the Rift Valley.

  • The government continues to harass opposition politicians, journalists,
    lawyers and human rights activists, often arresting them on spurious
    criminal charges.

  • Torture is endemic in Kenya's police stations.

  • Freedom of association is enjoyed only intermittently, with public
    meetings requiring official notification.

  • The Kenyan government retains a tight hold over the publicly-funded mass
    media, while the independent press faces constant harassment.

  • The rule of law is only intermittently effective and the administration of
    justice is subject to constant executive interference.

    ARTICLE 19's other recommendations for action by CMAG at its forthcoming
    meeting include:


  • CMAG should respond to the deteriorating human rights situation by
    exercising the discretion which it was given at CHOGM to invoke firm action
    across the Commonwealth against the Nigerian Government.

  • CMAG should identify specific steps, linked to a strict timetable, which
    the Nigerian Government must take if the current "transition to civilian
    rule" is to have any credibility. Failure to implement these steps should
    lead to further action by the Commonwealth.

  • CMAG should call for fair trials of all those charged in connection with
    the alleged December 1997 coup and for the immediate and unconditional
    release of any defendants who appear to have been imprisoned solely for
    holding or expressing non-violent political views - such as Niran Malaolu,
    editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper, "The Diet."

    Sierra Leone:

  • CMAG should ensure that the Commonwealth plays a more active role in
    seeking to ensure that all parties involved in Sierra Leone respect
    international humanitarian and human rights principles.

  • Pending the establishment of a viable government, CMAG should do all it can
    to impress upon Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Group
    (ECOMOG) the importance of providing the fullest possible protection to
    journalists and their property as they engage in their legitimate
    professional activities.

  • CMAG should consider sending a delegation to Sierra Leone to investigate
    violations of human rights and how the Commonwealth can help in the
    protection of human rights.

    The Gambia:

  • CMAG should publicly call upon the Gambian Government to cease its
    continuing attacks upon human rights, including freedom of expression, and
    send a ministerial delegation to the country to discuss specific measures
    which need to be taken to consolidate democracy and strengthen respect for
    human rights.

  • On its return, the ministerial delegation should recommend a tight
    time-frame for the implementation of these measures and set out the action
    to be taken should that time-frame not be honored.

    Cameroon and Zambia:

  • CMAG should also bring these countries within its remit. The arrests of
    government critics (eg. journalist Pius Njawe in Cameroon and former
    President Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia) are the most recent examples of ongoing
    human rights violations in both countries.


  • CMAG should begin a process of elaboration of the Harare principles without
    delay - an opportunity to do so was missed by the 1997 CHOGM. Such
    elaboration is essential if CMAG is meaningfully to monitor "compliance"
    with those principles in future.

  • CMAG should recommend that the Commonwealth as a whole urgently reviews its
    policies and procedures regarding the provision of "technical assistance" so
    as to ensure the full involvement of civil society as well as governments.

    1. At the October 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CMAG's
    remit was extended to allow it to address Commonwealth countries "deemed to
    be in serious or persistent violation of the Harare principles". It was also
    given the power to invoke, at any time, cross-Commonwealth measures against
    the Nigerian military dictatorship.

  • Source

    ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
    6-8 Amwell Street
    EC1R 1UQ
    United Kingdom
    info (@) article19.org
    Fax:+44 20 7278 7660
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