Photo courtesy: White House

President Ruto’s White House visit

April 24, 2024

President Joseph R. Biden The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500

Re: President Ruto’s White House visit

Dear President Biden,

The invitation to Kenyan President William Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto to attend a White House state dinner offers an excellent opportunity for a U.S.—Kenya policy dialogue on governance and human rights alongside other bilateral trade and investment issues.

As you are aware and emphasized in the December 2022 U.S. Africa Leadership Summit, inclusive, accountable, and responsive governance is critical for sustainable development and peaceful societies. Sadly, with 67 countries introducing new laws that restrict freedom of expression, association, or assembly, 35 per cent of young people now supporting military rule or repressive leaders who do away with legislatures and elections, the human rights advances over the last 35 years are being wiped out under your watch.

The U.S. and Kenya share some common strengths and challenges. Historically, both nations have a history of constitutionalism, rule of law, active civil society organizations and an independent press. In varying degrees, both nations grapple with growing inequalities and social polarization as well as human rights-based and transparent and accountable governance at federal or devolved levels.

Ahead of the 23 May State Dinner, Amnesty International wishes to draw your office’s attention to four areas, which, if addressed before and during the State Dinner, would advance both nations constitutional values and national commitments to human rights- based governance.

Professional, accountable, and human rights-based policing reforms: Amnesty International Kenya, IMLU and the Missing Voices Alliance empirically documented at least 60 protestors unlawfully killed by police officers over 2023. There were 136 extrajudicial executions, at least 7 enforced disappearances and over 100 cases of assault on citizens and police officers. Amnesty International remains concerned that several commanders and officers have not been investigated or prosecuted for these serious crimes.

As the U.S. and Kenya Governments explore ways of internationally deploying Kenyan police officers, it is imperative that the urgent need for comprehensive police reforms be raised in bilateral policy discussions. It will be important to also recognize the Kenya Government’s public commitment to fund the office of the Independent State Coroner as well as ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Respect for equality and non-discrimination: Article 27 of the Constitution of Kenya binds the Kenya Government to uphold the right to equality, respect, and protection for all persons. This obligation is currently being undermined by political, social and religious leaders and their followers who unchecked, continue to incite discrimination and violence towards people based on their identity. Attacks on children, women, persons with disabilities, older persons and sexual and identity-based minorities are disturbingly on the rise.

An important case in point is the introduction of the George Kaluma sponsored Family Protection Bill and Citizen Go Petition read by Hon. Mohamed Alito Parliament. Both Members of Parliament seek to heavily penalize same sex relationships, criminalize non-binary identity, severely restrict access to sexual and reproductive services, ban any public discussion, representation or protection for these communities and require citizens and state agencies to report them for prosecution.

The deliberate stoking of moral hysteria has created the environment for public disinformation, vilification and incitement campaigns that publicly incite mental and physical harm. Over the last year, 3,000 complaints, 1,250 instances of human rights violations and 12 hate based public rallies have been reported to government agencies Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights and National Cohesion and Integration Commission as well as civic agencies like the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and other human rights organizations.

Legislative action and Government non-action to protect all people present a real and present danger for all who express a different sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression from the majority. It fundamentally undermines Kenya as a place for responsible and inclusive investment and trade. It also fragments the social and diverse fabric of households, communities, and nation. In your meeting you must make it clear that it is important that the Government of Kenya does not jeopardize decades of co-existence and respect for diversity by enacting a hate bill very similar to that of Ghana and Uganda.

An enabling environment for civil society organizations, independent government institutions and the median For at least two decades, Kenyan and U.S. Presidents have highlighted the vibrancy of Kenya’s civil society organizations and mass media. The upcoming trip offers an opportunity to reaffirm this fundamental anchor for Kenya and the region. The Public Benefits Organizations Act was enacted by the Tenth Parliament, assented to by the late President Mwai Kibaki in 2014 but not operationalized by the previous Jubilee administration. The Kenya Kwanza political manifesto promised to implement this much needed legislation. We believe that Kenya

Government operationalization of this law is an easy win and would safeguard and elevate decades of investment and experience in the non-governmental sector.

The constitution of Kenya entrenches an ethical leadership code, the separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and the legislative and independent government commissions and offices. Over the last year, there have been two separate bills seeking to amend and weaken the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act.

Documented by Transparency International, no less than 245 corruption cases worth USD 75 million have been withdrawn against allies of the ruling Kenya Kwanza party and the individuals appointed to national cabinet and other state agencies.

There have been several corruption scandals reported publicly across the agriculture, energy and health sectors among others. While highly appreciative of the increase of funding to the judiciary, it is worth noting that other oversight bodies including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Independent Policing Oversight Authority, Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman) and the National Gender and Equality Commission among others remain underfunded and struggle to implement their mandates. Corruption, under-investment, and manipulation of independent oversight agencies is corrosive and will undermine the Kenyan Presidency’s ambitious Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda. It is important that this issue feature in the upcoming policy dialogues.

Facing changing consumer behavior, misinformation, and dwindling revenues, most of Kenya’s mass media houses are on the verge of collapse. The 23 January 2024 decision to withdraw government advertising from all major newspapers in favor of one newspaper with only 3% of the market share will stifle media freedom and limit public access and the right to information. It is important for the public right to know that the Government of Kenya does not centralize government advertising and support for the media. Amnesty International believes that it is both necessary and morally imperative for you to bring these often-ignored issues to the forefront. As you go about other agendas of bringing economic growth and pushing for other diplomatic priorities, please take care to fight for the lives of millions who could benefit from your actions.

Strengthening of diaspora Kenya America ties: Refreshingly, with the Kenyan Ministry of Diaspora and Foreign Affairs and the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States, both Kenya and the U.S. now have credible agencies to maximize on the benefits of 250,000 Kenyans living in America and remitting and at least Sh 400 billion (USD 2.6 million) back to Kenya.

These benefits may be optimized with the introduction and operationalization of a bilateral tax treaty that reduces double taxation and the high remittance transaction costs for the Kenyan diaspora. Ahead of the May State Dinner, the Council and Ministry must accelerate progress on the treaty and policies that strengthen skills transfer and social and health benefits for those Kenyans that wish to invest, return and/or retire in Kenya with all the due process necessary for such an endeavor. This includes ensuring adequate public participation in the development of the proposed treaty, legislative review and the undertaking and publishing of cost-benefit analyses and human rights impact assessments in relation to the proposed treaty.

We trust that these four areas will be considered and reflected in the bi-lateral policy dialogue before and during the upcoming State Dinner and accompanying meetings. Addressing these concerns will go a long way in ensuring that this significant moment will comprehensively be harnessed from a governance and human rights perspective. Both Amnesty International USA and Amnesty International Kenya are committed to human rights-based governance and U.S. Kenya bi-lateral relations that are founded on the rule of law and prosperous societies where all people are treated and belong equally. Addressing these four areas offers both Administrations the opportunity to optimize the policy dialogues leading up to and during the May State Dinner.

Remain assured of our highest considerations for the future of U.S. Kenya relations founded on mutual respect for human rights and good governance.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Paul O’Brien Executive Director

Amnesty International USA