President Obama Urged to Raise Human Rights Concerns in Kenya

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged President Obama to press the Kenyan government to address human rights challenges during his visit to Kenya on July 24-25. The call came in a letter from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino urging the president to raise concerns about the exclusion of civil society in discussions on countering violent extremism (CVE), the protection of human rights groups and vulnerable communities including refugees and Kenya’s LGBT community, and the ongoing scourge of rampant government corruption.

“As you highlight the promise of economic development and entrepreneurism, we hope you will underscore the wisdom of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—that respect for human dignity is the foundation of peace, security, and freedom. Without it, no nation can flourish,” wrote Massimino. “It will be important to make clear to Kenyan leaders that violating human rights and suppressing legitimate dissent risk fomenting the very extremism that—through participation in multilateral efforts and in partnership with the United States—they have committed to combat. In addition, we hope you will speak out against discrimination and incitement to violence against vulnerable communities in Kenya.”

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.

“A strong U.S. relationship with Kenya must be built on a shared commitment—in word and deed—to respect human rights. As our country continues to learn hard lessons from the grievous mistakes of its past, we urge you give these issues the prominence they deserve in your upcoming visit to Kenya,” added Massimino.

In advance of President Obama’s visit 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. Dooley recently returned from a research trip to Kenya, where he attended the CVE summit and spoke with dozens of government and civil society leaders.


Published on July 20, 2015


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