The government of Kenya is hostile towards human rights activists and organisations, according to a report issued Wednesday that warned of safety concerns ahead of the country’s 8 August elections.
Since taking power in 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “administration has been showing open hostility towards human rights defenders, considered as enemies of the State serving foreign interests to destabilise the country,” said The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
The government “has constantly been trying to undermine their legitimate work through judicial and administrative harassment and restrictive legislation,” its report added.
Allies of Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto blamed rights groups for their indictment at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity during widespread politically-motivated tribal violence that followed the 2007 polls.
Charges against both men were eventually dropped but the antipathy towards non-governmental organisations, especially those focused on human rights, remains.
The Observatory is a partnership between the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).
Its 50-page report, titled “2017 Elections: Broken Promises Put Human Rights Defenders at Risk”, details the violence and pressures faced by Kenyan human rights activists and organisations.
Cases include the 2016 kidnap, torture and murder of rights lawyer Willie Kimani, which caused uproar in the country.
The lawyer was defending a motorbike taxi driver who accused a police officer of shooting him for no reason.
The bodies of the lawyer, his driver and the defendant were found bound and tossed in a river outside Nairobi. Four police officers have been charged with their murders.
The Kimani case “is only the tip of the iceberg of a pattern of violence, aimed at silencing dissenting voices and perpetuating police and State security forces’ brutality and impunity,” the report said.
It also detailed the excessive use of police force to prevent the holding of demonstrations and denounced “a litany of offences” — including loosely defined crimes such as treason, unlawful assembly, disobedience of lawful orders and subversive activities — used to penalise human rights activists in contravention of the spirit of the 2010 Constitution which enshrined basic freedoms.
The report singled out the failure to pass the Public Benefit Organisations Act 2013 which was designed to protect and strengthen civil society.
However, the government has delayed, sought to amend the act and in its absence the more repressive NGO Coordination Act 1990 remains in force enabling the imposition of stronger restrictions by the interior ministry.
“As the general elections scheduled for August 8, 2017 approach, there is uncertainty about their potential impact on the situation of human rights defenders and civil society organisations,” the report warned.
Kenya’s opposition last week lined up Thursday behind a single candidate, veteran political leader Raila Odinga, to challenge Kenyatta.
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