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Rights Group says Kenya's Slums are 'Human Rights Black Hole'


The human rights organization Amnesty International has released a new report highlighting human rights abuses and other poor conditions in the slums of Kenya's capital. At the end of a visit to country, the organization's leader called on Kenya's leaders to devote more resources to improving the city's informal settlements.

Amnesty International's latest report draws attention to the fact that some two million people - half of Nairobi's residents - live in informal settlements, or slums, concentrated in an area that covers only five percent of the city's residential land.

The organization's secretary general Irene Khan launched the report at the end of a week-long visit to Nairobi, during which she visited several of the capital's slums, including Kibera, considered by some to be the largest informal settlement in Africa, and met with several cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

"Millions of people are living in squalid conditions, suffering from not only deprivation of basic services but also discrimination, insecurity and marginalization," Khan said. "Their voices are not being heard, they're not consulted or even informed of the decisions that will fundamentally affect their lives and their homes. This in our view is nothing short of a human rights scandal."

Khan said successive Kenyan governments have ignored the problems of Kenya's slums, and called on leaders to devote more resources to the area.

"The government has introduced a slum upgrading program that is a welcome first step, but that's all it is, it is a first step, because it has been too slow," she said. "It is under-resourced and residents who are affected by it do not feel that they have been consulted on its implementation. We have here a human rights black hole, where residents are deprived of their basic rights and excluded from a say in their future."

The report describes a slew of challenges facing slum residents, including high food prices, a lack of opportunities for education and health care, and abuses by gangs and the police. But the report puts particular focus on the problem of forced evictions, which the group says often occur at night, with little are no notice, and often involve destruction of property. The group called on the government to halt all forced evictions, saying they violate the right to adequate housing.

The report is part of a new campaign by the human rights organization focusing on issues of global poverty.

During her visit, Khan also called for the Kenyan government to implement human rights reforms, including an overhaul of the police force and the creation of a tribunal to try those suspected of organizing violence following the country's December, 2007 elections. She said without such reforms the country will continue to face political instability.

Earlier this month, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings presented a report to the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, calling on Kenya to fire its police chief and attorney general, and reform the police force, which has been accused of widespread illegal killings.

And yesterday, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who mediated a power-sharing agreement in Kenya last year, said the government has until the end of August to create a tribunal to try post-election violence suspects or he will hand a list of names to the International Criminal Court. Both Khan and Annan have said a local tribunal would be preferable.

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