Johannesburg. 18 May 2010. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation warns that the operating environment for civil society in Kenya remains fraught with danger. As the spotlight is focused on impunity in Kenya by the international community including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and special representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), civil society activists are facing grave risks.
Groups advocating for ending impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and those that have documented the violations are particularly threatened. On 4 May 2010, a meeting organised by Bunge la Mwannanchi on the post election violence in Kenya was dispersed and four of its activists were detained and later released without charges. In April this year, Kenneth Kirimi, a member of the civil society group, Release Political Prisoners, was arbitrarily detained and severely tortured by security operatives requiring him to need medical treatment. He was questioned with regard to his work on collecting information about extra-judicial killings and sharing of information with the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston.
In 2009, Philip Alston released a report warning that the "police in Kenya frequently execute individuals and that a climate of impunity prevails". In March 2009, the Executive Director and the Communications and Advocacy Officer of the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic Kenya (OFFLACK) were murdered after OFFLACK blamed the police for carrying out extrajudicial executions. In February, the same year, a journalist who had exposed corruption in the police was murdered. These events have infused the operating environment for civil society with fear and uncertainty.
Additionally, recent amendments to the Communications Act and adoption of regulations to the Act in December 2009 present impediments for community based non-profit groups that may wish to broadcast over the airwaves. A license to broadcast can only be given to those groups that broadcast continually for a minimum of eight straight hours.
"The major problem with Kenya is not so much about legal barriers to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly but with their practical exercise," said Netsanet Belay, Civil Society Watch Programme Manager at CIVICUS. "The prevailing climate of impunity for security forces and the issuance of veiled and direct threats followed by assassinations and physical assaults is a major impediment for activists working to advance human and democratic rights in the country."
CIVICUS calls upon the Kenyan government to protect the physical and psychological well-being of human rights defenders, as officials of the ICC and representatives of the OHCHR visit the country to collect testimonies from witnesses and victims of serious human rights violations.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world. In 2009, CSW tracked threats to civil society in over 75 countries around the globe.
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