President Obama Raises Human Rights Concerns In Kenya

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today welcomed public comments made by President Obama that support the protection of civil society, human rights, and equality in Kenya. During a joint press conference today with Kenyan President Kenyatta, President Obama rightly said the protection of human rights and civil society are necessary components of countering violent extremism. He also raised concerns about Kenyan corruption, emphasized that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people deserve equal protection under the law, and warned against the targeting of minority communities. In response to today’s remarks, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley said the following:

“We applaud President Obama for productively addressing the rights of LGBT people in Kenya today as an issue of equality under the law, emphasizing the dangers of government discrimination, warning that ‘bad things happen’ when governments treat people differently under the law, and invoking the American civil rights struggle as comparison.

“We also welcome comments made by the president emphasizing the need for civil society inclusion and the allowance for peaceful dissent in the fight against violent extremism. He should have also taken the opportunity to publicly name and show support for the civil society organizations targeted by President Kenyatta’s government, including Muhuri and Haki Africa. We urge President Obama to speak out publicly in support of these groups before he leaves the country.

“President Obama was correct in emphasizing the dangers of government corruption, describing it as a threat to Kenya’s growth. While technical assistance is a good first step, we urge President Obama to take more substantial steps to combat this corruption by making a public commitment to invoking Presidential Proclamation 7750, which would deny visas to the United States to Kenyan officials who have been involved in corruption. Additionally, we urge the president to explain what the U.S. government will do to investigate funds that have been generated by corruption in Kenya and are held in U.S. banks.”

During his remarks, President Obama discussed increasing security cooperation to counter violent extremism, “efforts that are advanced when there is rule of law, respect for human rights, a space for civil society and peaceful dissent, and when we welcome all communities as our partners.” He offered support for the LGBT community, emphasizing that all people deserve equal protection under the law.

The president also highlighted the need for initiatives to root out corruption and support institutions of good governance saying, “With the joint commitment we’ve agreed to today, the United States will offer advice and technical assistance to support Kenya as it takes additional steps to increase transparency and accountability and to strengthen institutions that fight corruption…If Kenya can put into place the habits and institutions of good governance, it can help unleash even greater growth, investment, and prosperity for the Kenyan people.”

This week’s visit is meant to solidify the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Kenya as well as reassure the Kenyan government of American support for its counterterrorism efforts. The visit also occurs alongside the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which brings together hundreds of entrepreneurs, government leaders, and international organizations.

Prominent civil society groups were notably excluded from last month’s regional CVE conference held in Kenya, which was a follow up to the White House CVE Summit last February. Repression of civil society and government corruption endure in Kenya. The Kenyan government has continued to harass prominent human rights organizations, including Muhuri and Haki Africa, under the pretense of counterterrorism efforts. These behaviors undermine the fight against extremism and should concern the United States as it seeks to strengthen its diplomatic ties with Kenya and promote stability in the region.

In addition, Kenyan minority communities continue to suffer discrimination and violence. Kenya’s Muslim community at-large 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.

Human Rights First recently 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.


Published on July 25, 2015


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