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Kenya Must Address Concerns Ahead of Human Rights Council Review

Ahead of Kenya’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council tomorrow, CIVICUS and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) urge the government to stop its onslaught against civil society and urgently address backsliding on civic freedoms.

Since the ruling Jubilee Coalition alliance assumed power in April 2013, threats to civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders have increased considerably. Kenya’s government has attempted to push through a spate of restrictive legislation with potentially catastrophic implications on fundamental freedoms and continues to target activists and dis-senters. The following paragraphs provide an overview of recent developments in Kenya.

In December 2014 amid protests by opposition members and civil society, a hurriedly drafted Security Laws (Amendment) Act was swiftly pushed through Parliament and signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta. On 2 January 2015, Kenya’s High Court suspended the im-plementation of 8 clauses of the controversial law on grounds of perceived incompatibility with constitutional safeguards. The Security Act amends 22 other laws and places a number of restrictions on the freedoms of expression and assembly. It empowers the Cabinet Secre-tary, a senior government official to designate areas and times for public gatherings and pro-cessions, and criminalises the publication of offensive material that can potentially cause fear and alarm to the public or disturb public peace. In Kenya’s volatile political climate, these provisions could open the door for arbitrary infringements on democratic rights.

The Security Act also imperils freedom of expression by prohibiting individuals and media organisations from broadcasting information that can undermine investigations or security operations to curb terrorism without the approval of the National Police Service. It further criminalises persons who publish photographs of victims of terrorist attacks without authori-sation from the police. The Act also criminalises anyone who publishes information that can be interpreted to directly or indirectly encourage others to commit terrorist acts. Additionally, the Security Act vastly expands the powers of security agencies to monitor communication, arrest and detain accused persons for up to 90 days without charging them and empowers prosecutors to withhold evidence considered sensitive from accused persons.

The Security Act follows attempts to amend legislation dealing with freedom of association namely through miscellaneous amendment bills in 2013 and 2014. Initially proposed amendments to the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act on 30 October 2013 among oth-er restrictive provisions sought to deny civil society organisations, access to resources by mandating that they should not be receiving more than 15% of their funding from sources outside the country.

These proposed amendments were sent to Parliament twice in 2014 and withdrawn on both occasions, on the grounds that members of Parliament could not deliberate on them before going to recess and subsequently because the leader of the Majority in Parliament had not received requisite reports from various agencies by the time the proposed amendments came to Parliament. A task force comprising stakeholders from all major sectors has now been created to ensure inclusive participation in discussing future amendments following the submission of a third round of amendments. However, civil society leaders remain anxious about the future of the sector in Kenya.

On 16 December 2014, the NGO Coordination Board arbitrarily cancelled the registration of 510 NGOs stating that they had failed to submit tax returns. In addition, 15 NGOs working mostly in northern Kenya and the coastal areas were accused of being conduits for financing terrorists. The closure of the NGOs was part of the government’s immediate response to three separate terrorist attacks which led to the deaths of at least 64 civilians in Mandera County and Nairobi between November and early December 2014. Some of the organisa-tions which were de-registered focused on grassroots and community development, the rights of women, children and the disabled, education and environmental rights while others were charitable and faith-based organisations. By 2 January 2015, 179 deregistered NGOs had been reinstated following condemnation from national and international civil society or-ganisations. The NGO Coordination Board confirmed that the organisations had submitted audited accounts and made payments for outstanding penalties for non-compliance with the law. However, this action has created a climate of fear and uncertainty amongst civil society in the country.

Activists and human rights defenders are being put under increased pressure from state au-thorities for exposing human rights violations. Recently, on 19 January 2015, two prominent human rights defenders Irungu Houghton and Bouz Waruku were arrested during demon-strations “occupy playground” as they advocated for the rights of school children in Langata Road Primary School. They appeared in court on 20 January and were charged with “incite-ment” and were later released on cash bail of 20000 Kenyan Shillings (US $ 215) as the Di-rector of Public Prosecution noted he will carry out further investigations on the case. On 18 December 2014, security forces dispersed a peaceful procession towards Parliament in Nai-robi that protested the contentious Security Amendments Bill. 8 activists were arrested and charged with participation in “unlawful demonstrations.” They appeared in court on 19 De-cember, were refused bail on cash and had to pay bonds of 300000 KES (US $ 3240) per person before they were eventually released. The 8 are expected to appear in court on 3 March 2015 for their first hearing.

Some other incidents of intimidation and attacks on human rights include the case of Wendy Wanja Mutega, a human rights lawyer and Chair of the Law and Social Development Trust (LASODET). She was confronted by unidentified individuals on 23 September 2014 and warned to abandon a case she was working on which involved 3000 members of the Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka Trust. Human rights lawyer Peter Wonyonyi Wanyama was assassinated by unknown assailants outside his home in Bungoma Western Kenya on 17 September 2013 after receiving death threats and warned to stop his human rights activities. He had represented victims of police brutality and prior to his assassination was working on a case in which police had shot dead a protester during demonstrations in March 2013.

Similarly, Hassan Guyo, a human rights activist and founder of the organisation, Strategies for Northern Development (SND) was shot dead by security forces in Moyale in the north eastern region of Kenya on 7 August 2013 as he carried out investigations at the scene of demonstrations that had been violently repressed by security forces.

Additionally, individuals perceived to be witnesses in Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election vio-lence investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and human rights defenders ad-vocating for justice before the ICC have been particularly targeted over the last few years. On 20 September 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai was threatened by a group calling itself the Nyaribo Support Group. The group threatened to burn down the house of the Special Rapporteur amid false reports that he was to testify in the trial of President Kenyatta at The Hague.

CIVICUS and EHAHRDP call on the international community to stand in solidarity with Ken-ya’s civil society during its Universal Periodic Review and urge the Kenyan government to respect its constitutional and international human rights commitments to create an enabling environment for civil society to operate and contribute to national life.

For more information please contact:
David Kode, Policy and Research Officer, on [email protected] or 27 11 8335959

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project:Hassan Shire, Chairperson, Executive Director, on: [email protected] or +256 772 753 753

John Foley, Advocacy & Research Manager: [email protected] or +256 789 650 996