Kenya: New acts of intimidation against civil society and restrictions on their access to foreign funding

21/12/2016
Urgent Appeal

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

KEN 004 / 1216 / OBS 110
Intimidation / Smearing campaign /
Restrictions to freedom of association
Kenya
December 20, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Kenya.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the recent new acts of intimidation and attacks against civil society and restrictions on their access to foreign funding.

According to the information received, on December 19, 2016, the NGO Coordination Board declared illegal and froze the bank accounts of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), an American non-governmental organisation (NGO) carrying out an electoral assistance programme ahead of the upcoming general elections of August 2017 through its Kenya office. In a letter addressed to IFES, Principal Secretary Interior Karanja Kibicho, the Central Bank of Kenya governor and USAid [1], the NGO Coordination Board affirmed that IFES is not a registered NGO in Kenya and therefore lacks the legal status to operate in the country. The NGO Coordination Board therefore ordered an asset freeze until proper registration occurs, and asked the director of Immigration to review the status of all foreigners working with IFES.

This happened only one week after the public speech of President Kenyatta on December 12, 2016, on Jamhuri Day (Celebration of Kenyan Independence), in which he condemned the work of NGOs, targeting especially the ones working in the field of civic education in Kenya ahead of next year’s general elections.

During his intervention he accused NGOs providing civic education to be agents of foreign powers trying to influence the electoral process and threatened to forbid them from receiving foreign funding. It has to be recalled that in Kenya, the role of civil society in educating the population on the political system and the electoral process is crucial to ensure free, fair and transparent elections.

The Observatory expresses its concern over such facts, since they are emblematic of the climate of hostility against civil society that has been characterizing the Kenyatta administration for almost 4 years. It is not the first time that the NGO Coordination Board arbitrarily put hindrances to the freedom of association of NGOs in Kenya [2] and that foreign NGOs and personnel working in Kenya are targeted [3]. Moreover President Kenyatta, who is running for his second mandate in the upcoming presidential elections, has been carrying out smearing campaigns against independent civil society in Kenya since he started his presidential mandate, blaming NGOs for instigating crimes against humanity charges against him and for cooperating with the International Criminal Court.

In addition, the questioning of foreign funding for NGOs is not new to the current administration, since it recalls other attempts to restrict freedom of association of Kenyan civil society through draconian amendments proposed to place restrictions on foreign funding to 15% for independent civil society groups. This could be the beginning of a new wave of harassment against the Kenyan independent civil society in view of the upcoming general elections.

The Observatory would like to recall that this happens under the same administration that has been undermining, for more than 1000 days since its signing into law, the commencement of the Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Act 2013, a law seeking to provide an enabling environment for NGOs. Despite the High Court ruling for its immediate overdue commencement on October 31, 2016, no further step has been undertaken so far [4]. Instead, as of today the NGO Coordination Act 1990 is still regulating the space for civil society with broad and vague provisions leaving room for arbitrariness and abuses against NGOs [5].

The Observatory considers extremely worrisome this lack of political will to create a favourable environment for civil society to work without hindrances in the defence of human rights and strongly condemns this new attack against the Kenyan civil society.

Finally, the Observatory would like to reiterate the importance of guaranteeing the constitutional rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression, particularly in view of the upcoming general elections, in order to prevent the brutal experiences of excessive use of violence by the police that Kenya has faced around the past two general elections.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Kenya asking them to:

1. Put an end to all forms of harassment and smearing campaigns against civil society in Kenya, as well as against all human rights defenders in Kenya as they only aim at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities.

2. Guarantee under all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in the country;

3. Immediately issue a public statement legitimizing the work of civil society and human rights defenders;

4. Follow the order of the High Court of Kenya by effectively implement the PBO Act without further delay;

5. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1 and 12.2; and

6. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Kenya.

Addresses:

· Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya, Fax: +254-020-2436, Email: president@statehousekenya.go.ke
· Hon. William Ruto, Deputy-President of the Republic of Kenya, Email: dp@deputypresident.go.ke
· Hon. Joseph Nkaissery, Interior & Coordination of National Government, Email: ps.interior@kenya.go.ke
· Inspector General of Police, Email: nps@nationalpolice.go.ke
· Macharia Njeru, Chairperson, Email: macharia.njeru@ipoa.go.ke
· Otiende Amollo, Chairperson, Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ), Email:otiendeamollo@yahoo.com ; otiendeamollo@ombudsman.go.ke
· Commissioner Kagwiria Mbogori, Chairperson, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), Fax: +254-020- 2716160 E-mail haki@knchr.org
· H.E. Mr. Stephen Ndungu Karau, Permanent Mission of Kenya to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 731 29 05, E-mail: mission.kenya@ties.itu.int
· H.E. Johnson Weru, Embassy of Kenya in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 340 10 50 / + 32 2 340 10 68. Email: kenbrussels@hotmail.com

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Kenya in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, December 20, 2016

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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