The UN adviser on genocide warned Kenya's political leaders on Tuesday that they could be held accountable for the violence sweeping the East African country.
Francis Deng, the UN secretary-general's special adviser for the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities, said violence in Kenya must stop immediately, as he announced he was sending a staff member to examine the postelection turmoil in the country, according to a statement from UN headquarters in New York. "Noting that political and community leaders may be held accountable for violations of international law committed at their instigation, Mr Deng urged them to meet their responsibility to protect the civilian population and prevent the violence," the statement said.
The killing of an opposition lawmaker in suburban Nairobi on Tuesday sparked new violence, prompting a mob of youths to riot in the streets of the capital, where they set houses ablaze and beheaded a doctor with machetes.
The ethnic clashes and protests, triggered by the December 27 election, has left more than 800 people dead.
U.N. aid agencies in Geneva said Tuesday that they were increasingly concerned about violence against women and children. "The state fails to live up to its task of protection," said a spokeswoman for the U.N.'s children fund who said people gathering in displacement camps were not spared from violence and aggression. In a displacement camp north of the Rift Valley, a group of around 20 women who said they had been raped, were hindered by locals from talking to UNICEF on Sunday, said Veronique Taveau. "A group of 15 young men intervened and warned the women that if they talk, they would again become the target of violence including their children," she said.
The UNICEF team subsequently alerted the official responsible for security in the camp, she added. But "the response we got was that nothing happened in the camp and that everything was going fine," Taveau said.
She declined to name the official or the exact location of the displaced people to protect the aid workers and women from further assault.
But she said the camp was under government responsibility. "It is up to the government to protect the camp."
Taveau said that people in the displacement camps live in very bad hygiene conditions and, in some places, cannot regularly receive drinking water. There were between 80,000 and 100,000 children under the age of 5 among the displaced, she said.
Insecurity makes it increasingly difficult for aid workers to reach the Kenyans with relief items, U.N. aid agencies said. The World Food Program on Monday had to interrupt food distribution to some 73,500 people in the suburbs of Nairobi because of the violence, said spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume. Another food distribution that started last week in the north of the Rift Valley also had to be suspended, she said. Aid shipments are becoming increasingly difficult because truck drivers are afraid of being attacked and refuse to leave Mombasa, she added.
"Some trucks are blocked on the roads in Kenya," she said, adding that of the 76 trucks that were delivering food aid, several had to stop because of insecurity.
The UN refugee agency said it was unable to get through to some of the most needy in the Rift Valley province because of the worsening security situation. UNHCR on Tuesday called off the planned evacuation of up to 400 people from the town of Timboroa, around 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Eldoret, said spokesman Ron Redmond. Two-thirds of the town was set ablaze in a pre-dawn attack Sunday that witnesses said left four dead.
Taveau said, "What is happening in Kenya at the moment is a real humanitarian tragedy with a terrible impact on children and women."