Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday that Orange Democratic Movement officials and local elders planned and organised attacks by opposition supporters primarily on members of president Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group.
“Opposition leaders are right to challenge Kenya’s rigged presidential poll, but they can’t use it as an excuse for targeting ethnic groups,” said Georgette Gagnon, HRW’s acting Africa director.
An ODM spokesman said the party ”has done everything it can to publicly call for peace” and was ”the first to condemn the loss of life” in Rift Valley.
He declined to respond directly to HRW’s allegations, but said: ”If an investigation was to show that anybody was involved, our position is that the law should be allowed to take its course.”
Rift Valley province in western Kenya has seen the most ferocious violence – and suffered the greatest economic disruption – in a nationwide round of bloodshed that has killed over 600 people and driven more than 200,000 from their homes.
Thousands of refugees camping at churches and public parks in and around the provincial capital Eldoret say they were chased from their homes in the days after the election by young men from the Kalenjin tribe – which is indigenous to Rift Valley – who looted their possessions and burnt their properties.
Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed members of several pro-ODM Kalenjin communities who described the ways in which local leaders and ODM party agents actively fomented violence against Kikuyu communities.
The organisation said in many communities, local leaders and ODM mobilisers arranged meetings following the election to direct and facilitate violence by gangs of local youth.
“Many Kalenjin community leaders told Human Rights Watch that if the area’s ODM leadership or the local Kalenjin radio station KASS FM told people unequivically to stop attacks on Kikuyu homes, then they believe the violence would stop,” the human rights organisation said on its web site.
While the violence appeared to be triggered by the poll – in which most ethnic groups voted as a bloc for either president Kibaki or Mr Odinga – it was fuelled by a deeper-seated sense of injustice in the Kalenjin community over land and inequality.
Land was expropriated from Kalenjins and given to white settlers by the British during the colonial era. After independence, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president and a Kikuyu, granted land in Rift Valley to members of his own tribe to relieve over-crowding in the Kikuyu heartland.
Some Kikuyu refugees say they were told they would have to leave their homes after the election, even before the result was announced.