By Irene Gaitirira
Published May 6, 2017
As Kenya prepares for the general election on August 8, 2017, a federation of human rights defenders, calls upon the government to “publicly recognise the crucial role of human rights defenders as pillars of democracy and watchdogs of the rule of law.”
Lamenting “widespread violence and harassment aimed at silencing dissenting voices and perpetuating impunity in Kenya”, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH partnership) calls upon Kenyan authorities to improve the safety of rights’ defenders, implement reforms in police and security sector, hold perpetrators of violence accountable, acknowledge the misuse of criminal law to harass defenders, and commence the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act of 2013.
OMCT-FIDH partnership says that Kenya, a country that in 2010 voted a very progressive Constitution strengthening its human rights framework in compliance with international standards, has in recent years chosen a different path. The freedoms enshrined in the constitutional Bill of Rights, OMCT-FIDH says, are not upheld or implemented.
“To date, the effective implementation of this progressive framework unfortunately remains a mirage and still needs substantial improvement,” declares OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “Lack of implementation and political will appear to be the main reasons for such disillusionment.”
A report published by the Observatory on May 3, 2017 accounts for high level of violence by police and security forces, especially against human rights defenders involved in the fight against impunity for human rights violations. The report compiles several testimonies of incidents of violence, including cases of harassment, threats, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing.
Human rights defenders are often criminalised on the basis of trumped-up charges, which aim at intimidating them through episodes of frequent arrest, detention in police stations, long trials and punitive bail and bond terms. This inevitably prevents them from pursuing their legitimate human rights activities.
Adding to this, the lack of a clear legal framework regulating the civil society sector due to the failure to commence implementation of the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act 2013 creates a legal limbo which obliges NGOs to operate in a hostile environment, characterised by the threat of arbitrary de-registration and asset freezes, continuous attacks and smearing campaigns.
“In such a context, and ahead of the upcoming general elections, it is urgent that Kenyan authorities publicly recognise the crucial role of human rights defenders as pillars of democracy and watchdogs of the rule of law. They must improve their safety, truly implement the police and security sector reforms, hold perpetrators accountable, acknowledge the misuse of criminal law to harass defenders, and finally commence the PBO Act of 2013”, concludes FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.