Presentation to the Justice, Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the National Senate

5 March 2023, Naivasha

Amnesty International Kenya welcomes the opportunity to brief JLAC this morning.

By Irũngũ Houghton,

After ten years of human rights protection, Amnesty International Kenya attained independent status as a national section of Amnesty International Kenya in December 2022. We are an association of 1,643 Kenyan human rights defender members and 20,000 supporters. While we believe in the power of just, accountable, and responsive states, we are financially independent of any state anywhere in the world. We invite senators and all present to join us by registering as members here 

We start by welcoming improved relations between the National Executive, Council of Governors and 47+1 governments and political parties’ commitments to constitutionalism, freedom from impunity, discrimination, and exclusion. We remind the Senate of the joint CSO recommendations following our independent assessment of the human rights record of the Jubilee Administration released before the General Elections.

The potential for partnerships is vast. For instance, the collaboration by the Police Reforms Working Group and Missing Voices data combined powerfully to produce the Special Report by the National Senate JLAC Committee on extrajudicial killings. Whether it would be support for fact-finding missions, special human rights hearings, drafting support for legislative bills and connections with human rights parliamentarians in the 70 countries in which Amnesty is present.

Data Governance: Digitisation of 5,000 services and introduction of Unique Personal Identity number provides another opportunity to create a sound lawful framework. Senator Orwoba’s initial thinking amendments to the Data Protection Act (2019) occur as risky and should be treated with care. It is, however, time for a Digital Services Act framed within GPDR best practices and our Data Protection Act (2019).

The quality of self-regulation by social media platforms needs further legislative attention. While limitations to the freedom of speech will claw back the constitution, we do need social media platforms to be more responsible in the way that they boost posts through paid advertising and moderate hateful content.

Human Rights Based Policing: Recent events indicate that constitutional freedoms can easily be violated with devastating costs to police-officers, assembly organisers, protesters, and the
public. Important as the Interior Ministry gives further thought to fleshing out Article 245 and the Public Order Act that responsibility for policing protests is not transferred to assembly organisers, but police are urged to work with assembly organisers. With the bi-partisan agreement, it would be important for Senate to have a learning and relationship building session between the National Police Services, KNCHR, IPOA and human rights organisations.

Right to Housing and Freedom from Forced Evictions: While we have seen a de facto moratorium on mass forced evictions, it is important to recognise that over 40,000 people remain displaced in Kibos, Kisumu and Mukuru kwa Njenga and Kenya still do not have a legal framework that frames state obligations towards the resettlement, compensation, and protection of the dignity. We urge the Senate to address this issue.

Discrimination and identity-based violence: We remind Senators of their role to deepen national cohesion, safety, and dignity for all. Historically, periods of financial distress and uncertainty have been fertile grounds for extremism in Germany (1930s), Rwanda (1990s) and South Africa (2000s). Populist and demagogic leaders across all sectors begin to take root and values of tolerance, acceptance of differences and diversity are smashed for an intolerance that excludes and denies minorities or marginalised populations equality under the law.

It doesn’t matter whether the minorities are ethnic, religious, or persons with disabilities. One of the specific challenges of this moment is how we will treat the LGBITQ community, roll back sexual and reproductive rights and the rights of women.

A legitimate call for a society-wide action to stabilise families, improve mental health and an end to high rates of suicides, intimate partner violence, teenage pregnancies and child rape has twisted into a targeted campaign against sexual minorities with devastating consequences.

Last month, human rights organisations recorded 367 cases of rights violations against sexual and gender minorities specially across Mombasa, Kwale, Nairobi, Kilifi, Eldoret, Busia, Kisumu, Turkana, and Machakos Counties. The cases include the forced closure of health clinics, eviction of a CBO, cyberbullying, stigma, and discrimination. Individual Kenyans have been evicted from their homes, children expelled from schools with no opportunity to sit exams, while others are being rejected by fearful families or subjected to conversion therapy. There have been numerous requests for relocation due to insecurity and threats of violence, including intimate partner violence.

There are other dangers ahead. Continued public hate speech and hate crimes will criminalise Kenyans for their private choices, exclude Kenyans from their right to safety and dignity and open the door for further extremism. Love, the foundation of all religions, not sexism, ableism, homophobia and hate, is now required.

We must disrupt the desire to destroy the autonomy and independence of human beings we think are very different from us. Some men fear and loathe independent women. The idea that they could not be entitled to women’s bodies and be rejected is deeply troubling. Heterosexual persons desperately and vainly cannot understand the idea that love, marriage, and family choices could be different for others. Abled people ignore and scorn those who think, move, see, or don’t see in the ways they do.

Male baby Sagini, Karatina University female student Phyllis Jepleting, 70-year-old Kabondo Kasipul widow Rusalina Ngeso, and queer Edwin Chiloba of Eldoret are all inter-linked. Senators must privately and publicly push back against any extremism, disrupt the normalisation of prejudice and pain in all our spaces. A Solomonic moment approaches with the proposed Kaluma anti-homosexuality bill.

Lastly, public perception that the young national and county administrations are wasteful, appointing economic criminals to state offices and actively capturing the parliamentary opposition, religious organisations, the media, and independent offices needs to be reversed. The nation must be allowed to breathe, or our young 47+1 governments risk everything.

For more information and interviews, contact Mathias T. Kinyoda on Mobile: +254723424802 Email: [email protected]