Kenya Blueprint Recommends President, U.S. Government Act to Promote Human Rights

Washington, D.C. – In advance of President Obama’s trip to Kenya this week, Human Rights First today released a new blueprint outlining steps the Obama Administration should take to promote greater stability in Kenya and the region, to advance productive means of countering violent extremism, and to support a robust Kenyan civil society. The blueprint titled “How the United States Can Help Counter Violent Extremism and Support Civil Society in Kenya,” is based on a Human Rights First research trip to Kenya in June and July 2015, including dozens of discussions with human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, academics, lawyers, independent experts, former senior Kenyan security officials, and government officials from the United States and other countries.

“Kenya is routinely among the top recipients of U.S. aid, getting hundreds of millions of dollars every year,” wrote Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, principal author of today’s blueprint. “The United States should strengthen and sharpen its efforts to combat violent extremism in Kenya, including pushing for security force reform and the eradication of corruption.”

The report details how in recent months the Kenyan government has attacked civil society groups and attempted to quiet dissent, often in the name of counterterrorism. Kenyan voters approved a new constitution in 2010 that contains strong human rights safeguards, protections for civil society, and judicial reforms. But official entities set up under the constitution to protect rights, including the National Gender Equality Commission and the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, are insufficiently resourced and politically weak. Civil society leaders face an ongoing government crackdown, and the Public Benefit Organizations Act of 2013, a law passed to regulate and safeguard the free operation of nongovernmental organizations, has yet to be implemented.

Additionally, corruption in government and police forces remains an endemic problem in Kenya. Despite official commitments to tackle the issue, Kenya still ranks 145 out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. Kenyan minority communities continue to suffer discrimination and violence, including being targeted by the police. Kenya’s Muslim community has been the target of collective blame for the crimes of violent extremist groups like al-Shabab, thereby making it harder for the security forces to obtain necessary cooperation from Kenya’s Muslim community in their fight against violent extremists.  Other vulnerable communities, including refugees and LGBT people, are in need of greater protection from the state.

Key recommendations from today’s blueprint include:

  • During his forthcoming trip President Obama should
    • speak out publicly for the need to protect civil society and journalists, and to involve civil society experts in discussions and decisions on countering extremism.
    • emphasize the promise of the 2010 constitution, and warn against the dangers of its protections not being implemented.
    • present advice on Kenya’s security challenges in the context of shared challenges, referencing the United States’ own policing problems and U.S. violations in the war on terror.
    • reference the positive contribution made by Kenya’s Muslim community to the country, and warn against the risks of collective suspicion and punishment.
    • publicly meet Kenyan civil society leaders, including LGBT leaders, representatives from targeted NGOs Muhuri and Haki Africa and refugee groups. He should mentioned Muhuri and Haki Africa by name in his public remarks as NGOs with a valuable contribution to make in the fight against extremism.
    • reference the rights of LGBT people in the context of protections afforded by the Kenya Constitution and with reference to Resolution 275 of the African Commission.
    • publicly meet representatives of commissions set up by the constitution, including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, and of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority.
    • raise with President Kenyetta the repatriation of Guantanamo detainee Abdul Malik.
    • announce what practical steps the U.S. government will take in the fight against corruption, including addressing the issue of the spoils of corruption held in U.S. banks, technical help from U.S. security forces in investigating corruption, and Presidential Proclamation 7750.
    • urge the implementation of the Public Benefit Organizations (PBO) Act without delay
  • The U.S. government should
    • vigorously implement Presidential Proclamation 7750, which would deny entry to the United States to corrupt Kenyan officials who solicit or accept bribes, as well as their family members and dependents who benefit from the corruption, thereby refusing to enable corrupt officials to benefit from U.S. resources or find a safe haven in the United States.
    • continue support for Independent Policing Oversight Authority.
    • expand support for the Security Governance Initiative, and particularly for the SGI’s efforts with Kenya. Good governance is a necessary component of establishing and maintaining an effective, human rights compliant security sector. Without it, “train and equip” security cooperation is likely to be ineffective or counterproductive.
    • ensure all U.S. agencies engaged in Kenya raise concerns about harassment and abuse of civil society as well as the need to create an environment for civil society to flourish (as outlined in September 2014 presidential directive on standing with civil society).

“The United States cannot afford for Kenya to slide into repressive governance if it is to be the ally Washington needs in the fight against al-Shabab and other violent extremist groups…The U.S. government should use the opportunities presented by President Obama’s July trip to express support for independent activists. It should also use its extensive aid and interaction with Kenyan security services to prevent the targeting of civil society leaders and groups,” wrote Dooley.

In advance of President Obama’s trip to Kenya, Human Rights First will host a Wednesday, July 22 media briefing call featuring Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley and Jedidah Waruhiu, Commissioner of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. In a letter issued yesterday , Human Rights First urged President Obama to press the Kenyan government to address human rights challenges during his visit to Kenya.


Published on July 21, 2015


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