June 28th 2017

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Civil society appeal to U.S. intervention on human rights situation in Kenya

“The human rights concerns…are particularly pressing because of their potential to both undermine, and to become exacerbated prior to and during the upcoming 2017 General Elections, due in less than 12 months.”

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comSunday, 21 Aug 2016 17:40 EAT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Local and international civil society groups have appealed to the U.S. government to intervene in Kenya’s flagging human rights situation. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who will arrive in Kenya tomorrow for talks centering on counter-terrorism operations, 14 NGOs have asked the Secretary of State to address the issue of human rights with Kenyan officials.

Led by the Kenya Human Rights Commission and Freedom House, the NGOs highlight concerns about the continued violation of human rights by Kenya’s security agencies in the war on terror. They identify increasing restrictions on the operations of civil society groups and the media, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, violations of the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees, and the crisis over the electoral commission.

“These violations and disregard for international human rights law on the conduct of counter terrorism should be of particular concern to the United States, given Kenya’s position as an ally in the promotion of security and stability in East and Horn of Africa, and because they also undermine the fight against terrorism by creating trust- deficit between communities and security agencies,” the letter says.

The letter warns that the violations it identified may undermine the upcoming 2017 general elections. “The human rights concerns…are particularly pressing because of their potential to both undermine, and to become exacerbated prior to and during the upcoming 2017 General Elections, that are due in less than 12 months,” said the letter.

To help make the impending elections peaceaful and legitimate, the NGOs urge Secretary Kerry to call on the Kenya government to take all necessary measures to ensure that all eligible voters are enabled to register to vote by facilitating the issuance of identification documents.

The groups also expressed concern about the harassment of media, in particular bloggers, and human rights defenders. “Despite the High Court’s annulment of some of the most restrictive provisions of the Kenya Communications and Information Act (KICA)…bloggers continue to face prosecution under different legal regimes. Provisions of the KICA and the Media Council Act 2013 regarding threats to national security, as well as defamation provisions in the 2015 Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act, have been used to harass and intimidate the media and stifle the right to freedom of expression and association,” the letter said.

They also want Kerry to use his influence to address the hostile climate in which NGOs themselves operate. “The Public Benefits Organizations (PBO) Act was enacted in 2013, following extensive consultation with civil society, however, to date it has not been operationalized. Instead, there have been attempts to amend the law with the aim of introducing restrictive clauses. Moreover, NGOs continue to suffer administrative harassment - in October 2015 the NGO Coordination Board threatened to deregister over 900 NGOs.”

Those that signed the statement include the Africa Centre for Open Governance, KHRC, Freedom House, the International Commission of Jurists Kenya Section and Society for International Development.

Secretary Kerry will also visit Nigeria during his current tour of Africa.

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