Top Stories / National
Tuesday, 23 Aug 2016 13:33 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has departed Kenya after a visit in which he expressed support for ongoing electoral reforms and urged Kenyan leaders to observe peace in the run-up to general elections in mid-2017.
The secretary's visit, which may be one of the last by a senior Obama administration official before the U.S. elections in November, underscored the U.S. commitment to help Kenya achieve stability in the increasingly turbulent region.
Secretary Kerry met President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House to discuss the South Sudan conflict and other bilateral issues, including counter-terrorism. He later held another meeting with opposition leaders. To both government and opposition, he appealed for observance of democratic norms and announced that the U.S. would provide Sh2.5 billion (USD25 million) towards the election.
"Holding free, fair and credible elections next year will be consolidating gains made in the 2010 constitution. Kenya must have a trusted electoral agency and full participation of both women and youth," he told journalists.
The Secretary's trip will disappoint human rights groups that had urged him to address human rights, media freedom and restrictions on the work of NGOs with local officials. Kerry steered off the issues in his public remarks at the Kempinski Hotel, Nairobi.
Ahead of Kerry's visit, local and international human rights groups appealed to him to intervene in Kenya’s flagging human rights situation. In a letter to Kerry, the groups asked the Secretary of State to address the issue of human rights with Kenyan officials during the visit.
Led by the Kenya Human Rights Commission and America-based Freedom House, the NGOs cited concerns about the continued violation of human rights by Kenya’s security agencies in the war on terror. They identified increasing restrictions on the operations of civil society groups and the media, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, violations of the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees, and the crisis over the electoral commission.
The Secretary's week-long trip will also take him to Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. According to the State Department update on the journey, the Kenya trip would focus on South Sudan's peace process and Somalia's political transition.
In Nigeria, the Secretary will discuss with President Muhammadu Buhari cooperation on the fight against Boko Haram militants, the Nigerian economy and human rights issues, while the Saudi Arabia leg will focus the conflict in Yemen.
The two countries have a more complicated human rights situation than Kenya's. Nigerian government forces have continued to be implicated in grave violations against civilians in their operations against Boko Haram, despite President Buhari's promise during his election in 2015.
Yemen has turned into a huge humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 3,700 civilians have been killed in the Yemeni conflict since Saudi Arabia launched its offensive in March of 2015. As a key ally of Saudi Arabia, the United States has been a key backer of the Saudi military campaign in Yemen through arms sales and diplomatic support.
The United Nations has found that in the first year of conflict the Saudi-led coalition was guilty of half the attacks on schools and hospitals that it documented. The French humanitarian group MSF, has had to pull out after its hospitals were repeatedly hit by Saudi missiles.
Earlier this month, the U.S. approved the sale of more than $1 billion of new weapons to the Saudis. Since taking office, the Obama administration has approved more than $110 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
However, the pressure is growing from human rights groups and the media for the U.S. to stop its support for the Saudis. Ahead of Kerry's trip, U.S. legislators introduced Bills in both houses of Congress to cut off funding to Saudi Arabia.
Last week, The New York Times and The Guardian editorial boards also called for the U.S. and British governments to end their support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The Times editorial, "America is Complicit in the Carnage in Yemen," wrote: "Congress should put the arms sales on hold and President Obama should quietly inform Riyadh that the United States will withdraw crucial assistance if the Saudis do not stop targeting civilians and agree to negotiate peace."