Posts Tagged ‘Kenya’

COP25: climate defenders also needed to be shielded

November 28, 2019

Tomorrow, 29 November, 2019, young people will gather at locations around the world for a Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike. On 2 December, United Nations delegates, world leaders, business executives, and activists will meet at the 25th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid to discuss ways to protect the environment. Participants in these events should also discuss ways to protect the protectors: the individuals and groups targeted around the world for their efforts on behalf of the planet.

Kenya: human rights defenders active in outreach during October 2019

November 2, 2019

The EU lists 3 finalists for the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

October 9, 2019

Following a joint vote by MEPs in the Foreign Affairs and Development committees of the European Parliament on Tuesday, the finalists for the 2019 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are:

The European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents (President and political groups’ leaders) will select the final laureate on Thursday 24 October. The prize itself will be awarded in a ceremony in Parliament’s hemicycle in Strasbourg on 18 December.

For more on the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and two other awards in the name of Sakharove, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sakharov-prize-for-freedom-of-thought

For last year’s award see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/27/ukrainian-filmmaker-sentsov-wins-eus-sakharov-prize-for-human-rights/

Several people who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity expressed surprise that Navalny had not been shortlisted.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20191008IPR63719/sakharov-prize-2019-meps-choose-the-finalists

https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-activist-navalny-not-on-sakharov-prize-shortlist/30206166.html

Interview with Kenyan human rights defender Okiya Omtatah

September 3, 2019

The Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation of 1 September 2019 carries a long profile of the human rights defender Okiya Omtatah. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/human-rights-defenders-in-kenya-honored-with-national-awards/

Okiya Omtatah

Activist Okiya Omtatah at Milimani Law Courts on September 14, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

1. The many petitions you have presented in court on behalf of Kenyans and the fact that you have succeeded in many of them points to a void in our public life as ordinary citizens created by the government through its many agencies. Sir, who is sleeping on the job that has prompted you to step in? How can we hold these public servants or institutions responsible as taxpayers for sustainable quality service delivery? Komen Moris, Eldoret

My activism is anchored on the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. My overriding objective is to the immense power of the Constitution to have the Judiciary entrench constitutionalism and the rule of law in the conduct of public affairs.

Hence, all the petitions I have filed concern public law, and they fall in three broad categories: motions challenging decisions of law-making institutions where I contest the constitutionality of statutes by Parliament or by county assemblies, and both the constitutionality and legality of subsidiary legislation; motions contesting the constitutional and legal validity of policy decisions and other administrative actions of the executive at both national and county levels, and motions seeking to protect public property from thieving public officials and private individuals.

From my experience, the struggle is against contemptuous disregard of the constitutionally prescribed limits and powers of government, and affirmation that Kenyans are not subjects but sovereign citizens with their rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. From the above, it follows that the solution to our problems is to uphold the Constitution. However, it is clear our political leadership has failed in its duty to whip us as a nation into fully implementing the Constitution so as to realise its great promise.

2. Not long ago you called on Kenyans to contribute towards instituting a suit against all the MPs over house allowances they had awarded themselves. How did this initiative go and how much were you able to raise? Githuku Mungai

The initiative was not for instituting the case but to pay for the costs of serving the petition on the MPs through full page adverts published in the Daily Nation and Standard newspapers as ordered by the High Court. I required at least a million shillings but only raised some Sh130,000.

3. Over the course of your public life, you have largely been plastered with two labels: a defender of public interest by many and a rebel to a few. This can be attributed to the many cases you have argued out in the corridors of justice, among them bank capping rates, judges retirement age, most recently the CBA-NIC tax waiver. These cases largely touch on the crucial interests of the ordinary citizen. I can’t help but ask, what is the philosophy behind what you do? Do you feel intimidated or shaken by the weight of cases you take on considering the fact that in many cases you take them on your own? Kagwera Raphael, Kisii

The philosophy behind what I do is the Gospel of Christ, who preached about God’s love and divine mercy, and continues to reveal that the Kingdom of God is among us and therefore we must do right. At creation time, God gave Adam and Eve the power over all that he had created, but He did not give them the power over themselves; He gave them the law.

And when they broke that law they lost the Garden of Eden. Hence, the rule of men is doomed since it is anathema to the will of God. Only the rule of law works. Hence, humanity cannot rule itself and prosper except by the laws anchored on promoting the rights and fundamental freedoms of all people – and that includes obeying the Constitution of Kenya, which largely mirrors the Gospel of Christ. I don’t feel threatened or intimidated by the cases I take on since I take them up as part of my apostolate. And for as long as God wants to use me to call upon all Kenyans to obey the law, I will be available to do so.

4. Having had a peaceful, respectful, issue-based and effective campaign for the Busia senatorial race during the 2017 elections, one which didn’t turn out as most of us had expected, what is your objective opinion on Kenyan politics and campaigns? Kagwera Raphael, Kisii

My Busia senatorial race was a very rewarding experience for me. Though I vied on a Ford-Kenya ticket in an ODM stronghold and, literally, I had no money to match what the incumbent unleashed, I chose the route of civic and political education to agitate for resource-based leadership and it worked very well. It was a neck and neck race where I got more than 100,000 votes, and the difference between me and the Senator wasn’t much. But even though we can’t cap the amounts of money candidates spend on campaigns, the amounts and their sources must be disclosed to law enforcement. That way, it will at least reduce the distortion illicit money has on the democratic process, especially on poverty-stricken populations scavenging for basics. We must also eradicate mass poverty at the grassroots.

5. Your nature of work in the areas of human rights demands that you really need a good and reliable sponsorship so to speak, or stable source of income from where you can get resources to mount the kind of legal challenges you undertake. What is the source of your income? What is your reaction to allegations that you are often paid to institute the cases you do? Francis Njuguna, Kibichoi

First of all I don’t need a lot of money because I don’t hire lawyers to research, draft and prosecute my cases. I do so myself. Second, I lead a very simple lifestyle which is basically a source of income through the savings I make. I have seen people who earn much more than I do lead very miserable lives due to reckless lifestyles. As for allegations, they are just that. It is human nature to speculate where you have no facts. And it is written in the Holy Book that John the Baptist ate not and he was called a madman; Christ ate and drunk and He was called a glutton.

6. Our history is full of examples of good human rights activists including yourself, Kepta Ombati, Cyprian Nyamwamu, Boniface Mwangi, among others who tried to unsuccessfully run for political office. No doubt, political office is an expansion of activism and movement work. What should good activists do to win elections and continue their good work as politicians? Raphael Obonyo, Nairobi

They should not give up and I don’t think they have. The society is changing and, soon, we will have issue-based politics and one’s ethnicity or capacity to give handouts will not be trump cards at elections. While still at it, I point out that Prof Kivutha Kibwana, the Makueni Governor who has performed exceptionally well, was and is an activist who was elected into office and has delivered on his convictions.

7. There is a popular joke in Kenya about the Judiciary: ‘Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge?’ Former Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga began ambitious efforts to transform Kenya’s courts and earn back the people’s trust. What is your assessment of the transformation at the Judiciary given that you frequently interact with them? Raphael Obonyo, Nairobi

The joke is just a joke. Whereas one or two judges may not be up to scratch, most judges and other judicial officers are very hard working individuals who deliver for Kenyans in very difficult situations. The Kenyan Judiciary is the only arm of government that retains and espouses Kenya’s republican character. We cannot compare the Judiciary to the Executive and the Legislature, at both national and county levels, which are totally captive to ethnicity and corruption

8. Due to the nature of your work, sometimes you challenge decisions of the powerful and mighty. Don’t you ever fear for your life when making such challenges? Have you ever received threats to have you drop the matter you are pursuing? Emmanuel Lesikito

Though I take precaution, I know that there are no human beings who are mighty and powerful. Only God is mighty and powerful. So I have no fear of any man and their threats, since God is my shield. No man can destroy my soul.

9. Of all the advocacy and litigation cases that you have undertaken in the interest of the public good, explain the one case that posed the greatest challenge and possibly a danger to your life. Nyongesa Chris Makhanu, Nairobi

A 2012 petition where I challenged the flawed procurement of the BVR kits which failed to work on Election Day. I was offered a bribe of Sh9 million to drop the case but I refused. I then applied to court for police protection but Justice Majanja dismissed my application. Two days later I was attacked by two men who hit my head with metal bars and left me for dead. As they were clobbering me, I could hear them say something to the effect that “Ulikataa pesa sasa utakufa na kesi yako pia itakufa” (You refused our offer; we are going to kill you and your case is going to collapse). But God saved me.

10. Do you really always read Kenyan’s mood before you move to court? I am referring to the case on the new currency, which by and large has been welcomed by a majority of Kenyans. Bernard Nyang’ondi, Mombasa

No, I am driven by fidelity to the law and the public interest.

11. Thank you for fighting for the common person. My question is: Fresh job seekers are required to produce a Certificate of Good Conduct and clearance certificate from Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, among others. These requirements make me wonder, do jobseekers have to pay for not committing crime? Do they have to pay for not being corrupt? Why have you never gone to court to challenge these primitive requirements? Evans Muteti, Mombasa

Justice Odunga declared those requirements to be unconstitutional in the case that was filed by Justice GBM Kariuki. I also filed another case on the same — but it is pending at the High Court — to allow the Supreme Court to determine whether it will allow the High Court to proceed or it will hear an advisory reference on the same issue that was filed by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).

12 Sir, you are known to be one of the most relentless and leading human rights defenders in Kenya. You are no guest in our courts and all these court cases require resources. What motivates you? Geoffrey Oyoo, Embakasi East

The Holy Scripture, especially the teachings on the salt and light of the world; the Good Samaritan, and the call to be witnesses of Christ.

13. Recently, a young woman died at KNH after she developed maternal complications due to negligence by staff on duty. Of course many other preventable deaths occur in public hospitals due to negligence. Don’t you think it is more worthwhile to fight for the rights of such helpless victims as opposed to, say, pursuing elitist court cases like the one on new currency notes? Stephen Kathurima, Nairobi

There are no elites under the law. All are equal. Secondly, I believe in draining the swamp not waiting to kill every snake and mosquito that escapes from the swamp. The mess in our hospitals and other institutions is a rule of law problem. Let’s drain the swamp by implementing the Constitution and upholding the rule of law.

https://www.nation.co.ke/news/One-on-one-with-activist-Okiya-Omtatah/1056-5256164-l8pfwyz/index.html

 

Award for human rights defenders by PBI UK to Kenyan and Colombian defenders

June 23, 2019

Kenyan social justice activist Naomi Barasa and Colombian human rights lawyer Daniel Prado have won the first annual Henry Brooke Awards for Human Rights Defenders, created in 2018 by PBI UK and pro bono legal network the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk.

These awards are in honour of the life and legacy of Sir Henry Brooke – barrister at Fountain Court Chambers, founder of the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk and patron of PBI UK – who passed away in January 2018. They are presented annually to defenders who encapsulate the qualities Sir Henry most admired and reflected in his own life: selflessness, courage, and commitment to seeking justice for the oppressed and the marginalised. The award winners were selected by a panel of leading figures from the UK legal and human rights communities. For more on this award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/henry-brooke-awards-for-human-rights-defenders

Naomi Barasa was selected for the award in recognition of her remarkable determination and commitment to grassroots human rights work in the most disadvantaged social circumstances. Born in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi, Naomi was a close witness to street violence, police brutality, impunity and the overwhelming inequality of the slums. Her journey as a human rights defender has embedded her in the struggle to improve living conditions for Nairobi’s 2.5 million slum dwellers. Naomi was instrumental in the campaign that led to the passage of the Sexual Offences Act in 2006, and has acted as Campaigns Manager for the Right to Adequate Housing with Amnesty International since 2009. She has contributed to the adoption of legislation such as the Housing Bill 2011, the Evictions and Resettlement Bill and the Slum Upgrading & Prevention Policy. What motivates her work, she says, is “the resilience of the suffering people and the desire to see a different world. A world that has a mathematics of justice, not of inequality.

Daniel Prado was selected as an example of a lawyer who has defied huge personal risk in order to pursue justice for the victims of human rights violations, oppose impunity and defend the rights of marginalised communities against powerful interests. He began his career by providing legal support to the family members of victims of enforced disappearance in the early 1990s and currently works with the Colombian NGO the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP). Among other emblematic cases, Daniel represents victims of paramilitarism in the case of Los Doce Apóstoles (The Twelve Apostles), in which Santiago Uribe, brother of former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe Velez, stands accused of creating paramilitary groups responsible for more than 500 murders. Daniel’s involvement in this and other high-profile cases has seen him exposed to death threats, harassment and a public campaign of defamation and slander. Speaking of his work, he has said: “The risks in Colombia are unstoppable. I have taken many cases that have had consequences for a lot of people… we live in a constant state of anxiety about what can happen to us.

PBI provides security and advocacy support to both Naomi Barasa and Daniel Prado, to help mitigate the risks they face as a result of their human rights work.

 

 

Two South Sudanese activists who had disappeared two years ago now presumed dead

May 30, 2019

It’s time for Kenya, South Sudan to account for the enforced disappearance of Samuel Dong and Aggrey Idri

As news of the death of Samuel Dong Luak and Aggrey Ezboni Idri circulated recently, I felt extremely saddened.. The enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of two outspoken critics of the South Sudanese government, by South Sudanese security services allegedly with the acquiescence of Kenyan authorities, and both states’ continuous denial of responsibilities, signals a worrying trend of disrespect for human life and insecurity for those who dare to speak up and challenge power.

Samuel Dong Luak was a prominent human rights lawyer, Secretary General of the South Sudan Law Society for over ten years, as well as a member of the South Sudan Constitutional Review Commission.

Aggrey Ezboni Idri was an opposition leader, and member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO). In 2013, after receiving death threats for providing legal assistance to the former Secretary General of South Sudan’s governing party, Pagan Amum, who had been accused of “treason” by President Salva Kiir, Dong fled South Sudan and sought refuge in Kenya, where he was granted refugee status. The same year, Aggrey also relocated to Kenya after South Sudan descended into conflict.

The deceased lived with their families in the capital, Nairobi, until they were disappeared on 23 and 24 January 2017, respectively. Amnesty International, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and other human rights groups called on the governments of Kenya and South Sudan to reveal the fate or whereabouts of the two men, suspected to be held by Kenyan authorities before deportation. The families of the disappeared also mobilised; petitioning Kenya’s High Court to produce the two men in court, but the petition was dismissed as Kenya denied having them in its custody. The family later asked the police to conduct a thorough investigation, but a final judgment in January 2019 confirmed the dismissal of their petition and ended judicial oversight into police action with regard to the case. Yet, the Court had noted that the police investigation fell short of seeking information from South Sudanese authorities and potential key witnesses.

The fate of Dong and Aggrey remained unknown until April 30,2019, when the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan circulated a report pointing to the likelihood of their death. The report states that “the Panel has corroborated evidence strongly suggesting” that Dong and Aggrey were kidnapped in Kenya by an arm of South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS), transferred to Juba, and executed in a NSS detention and training facility in Luri, on January 30, 2017.

In a report published in April 2018, DefendDefenders reported on the role of the NSS in limiting free expression and committing violations against human rights defenders (HRDs) in South Sudan. This case further highlights the unchecked power and impunity enjoyed by South Sudanese security services, which jeopardises possibilities for peace in the context of the revitalised peace agreement signed in September 2018. South Sudan’s conduct blatantly violates human rights standards, including the Declaration on the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearances. Moreover, South Sudan continues to retain laws that are inimical to their regional and international human rights obligation. This results in shrinking civic space and democratic practice and killing or exiling of journalists and HRDs.

The alleged acquiescence or cooperation of the government of Kenya violates article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits returning people to places where they risk being tortured or ill-treated. Kenya ratified it. Dong’s confirmed status as a refugee also commits Kenya to the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Worryingly, this does not seem to be an isolated case.

……..
Against these worrying trends, I add my voice to that of other human rights organisations in calling on South Sudanese and Kenyan authorities to establish swift, impartial, independent, transparent and thorough investigations into Dong and Aggrey’s case. Both Kenya and South Sudan are State parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and must take all necessary measures to uphold their obligations under the African Charter and other international instruments. South Sudanese authorities must allow the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan and other monitors to access the site where the killing allegedly took place and all relevant witnesses and information. It is necessary to investigate these events fully, including the chain of command that led from Dong and Aggrey’s disappearance in Nairobi to their alleged execution. Those responsible, irrespective of their rank or standing, need to be held accountable, and the families of the victims must have access to adequate remedies for the losses they suffered.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other regional and international organs should collectively and strongly ensure that justice and accountability is served in this case. They must demand that Kenya and South Sudan end all enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Denials, impunity, and attempts at diffusing responsibility cannot stand in front of such serious allegations. More than two years after their disappearance, justice and accountability are due to the families and the communities Dong and Aggrey were forced to leave behind.

COMMENT: Disappearance and extrajudicial killing

 

Debate in Kenya: are human rights defenders always credible?

May 17, 2019

In Kenya (and other countries) there have been efforts in the media to cast doubt on credibility of human rights defenders, sometimes implying that they are just ‘guns for hire’, seek advantages for themselves or are bought to demonstrate. On 15 May2019  the Star in Kenya run an article on the topic:

Activists protest outside Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries over pollution

Activists protest outside Kibos Sugar and Allied Industries over pollution  Image: MAURICE ALAL

…However, sector players told the Star that while there are a few elements doing activism with ulterior motives and pursuing self-gratification, the movement in the country is sound, focused, selfless and professional. Popular activist Boniface Mwangi told the Star that “Kenyans suffer from Stockholm syndrome, falling in love with their oppressors and attacking those that fight for them”. “I find the notion of celebrity activism, mostly thrown at me, very offensive. I’m a pretty young person who is a photojournalist. I have been shot at, beaten, tortured and harassed many times while doing activism for causes that I don’t even benefit from,” he said on phone. He added, “In my latest arrest, the National Intelligence Service tracked me using my phone. That means they have all the information about me, including that of my alleged sponsors. They could have unleashed all this. All serious people who caused impact through their activism like Martin Luther King and Wangari Maathai were denigrated but praised later.”

Ndung’u Wainaina, a veteran human rights and governance activist, told the Star that rights activism in the country in the modern times is largely not based on foundational philosophy as was the case in the 80s and 90s. “It is true there are briefcase entities and individuals in the human rights defence world whose actions are not based on any value system or persuasion. They are out for self-gain,” Wainaina said. “There is a need for strong visionaries grounded on firm principles for effective activism,” he said. For example, he said, Prof Wangari Maathai became renowned as a crusader for environmental justice because of her consistency and ability to carve a niche for herself in that area.

But Al Amin Kimathi acknowledged that a pocket of dubious activism exists “but they are fringe, in a minority.” He said there are countless genuine activists pursuing issues that improve people’s lives at great personal cost. “Most of us earn our living doing all sorts of other things and put the earnings in our activism. That’s my situation. I work far away from media most of the time, giving myself as an example of so many colleagues,” he said, adding that the notion of celebrity activism is “a creation of the media obsessed with the stars.”

Hussein Khalid, the executive director of Haki Africa, a Coast-based human rights organisation, told the Star that the majority of activists in the country are driven by a passion for justice to the helpless rather than money and fame. “As a lawyer, I could make much more money and be more famous taking up big, high-profile cases. But I choose to remain at Haki Africa to serve the meek and poor in society,” he said. He dismissed the notion that most activists are shallow with a huge appetite for money and media attention.

Kenya National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders chairman Kamau Ngugi told the Star that like every sector, there are always rogue elements but “who are very few“. He said there has been a systematic agenda targeted at denigrating and criminalising the place of human rights activism and journalists in the country.

Demas Kiprono, campaign manager at Amnesty International, told the Star that genuine activism has been the cog for positive change and reforms in the country “which detractors are not happy about”. “The celebrity narrative is a counter-narrative created by those opposed to human rights in order to de-legitimise human rights work. They conveniently leave out the fact that activists have secured justice, dignity and a voice for the downtrodden in society,” he said.

https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2019-05-15-celebrity-activists-tainting-image-say-human-rights-defenders/

German Africa Prize goes to Kenyan Ushahidi IT pioneer

April 7, 2019

The winner of the 2019 German Africa Prize is Juliana Rotich, founder of software project Ushahidi, which was introduced to monitor violence in Kenya following the 2007 general elections.

Juliana Rotich (Getty Images)

Juliana Rotich became known in professional circles in 2007 as the co-founder of the open source platform Ushahidi (a Swahili word meaning ‘testimony’), which began in Kenya as an internet platform developed to map reports of post-election violence and which went on to revolutionize the international flow of data and information.

A 16-member independent jury selected Rotich from a list of 18 African nominees. The 42-year-old was informed at a meeting on Thursday 4 April 2019 at the German embassy in Nairobi, attended by Deputy Ambassador Michael Derus and the General Secretary of the German Africa Foundation, Ingo Badoreck. The award pays tribute to the Kenyan entrepreneur not only for her business achievements and technological innovations but  also for her outstanding sense of social responsibility. For more on this another regional awards for Africa see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/german-africa-award]

The Ushahidi logo

In an interview with DW in 2013, Rotich explained the philosophy behind Ushahidi: “One of the things that we are doing is that we have a partnership with civil society organizations, peace networks and youth networks. And these are organizations that are doing peace work in terms of messaging and encouraging the population to be peaceful and to conduct themselves in a peaceful way. So in that respect we are part of a partnership. Ushahidi’s key role in this partnership is the technology. And this is the crowdsourcing technology that allows people to report but also provides a way for digital humanitarians to volunteer and help to sift through the information, categorize it and make it available on the website.

Today Ushahidi is used in over 160 countries as a tool for crisis response and for independent election monitoring, for example in Nigeria and Afghanistan. It has also been used following natural disasters in Chile, Haiti and New Zealand. Juliana Rotich is regarded as one of the leading figures of the digital revolution in Africa and beyond.

From Ushahidi she went on to found BRCK, an innovative technology company which is now the biggest Wi-Fi provider in sub-Saharan Africa. The central product is a battery-operated modem which can function for up to eight hours without electrical power. It is used in 150 countries.

See also: https://www.huridocs.org/2018/09/tools-for-human-rights-documentation-our-2018-snapshot/

https://www.dw.com/cda/en/german-africa-prize-goes-to-kenyan-it-pioneer/a-48200177
https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001346880/kenyan-bags-german-africa-prize

In Memoriam for Mwatha, human rights defender disappeared and killed in Kenya

February 22, 2019

Caroline Mwatha Ochieng
Caroline Mwatha Ochieng

Gacheke Gachihi, coordinator of Mathare Social Justice Centre and member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group, celebrates the life of a fellow activist, Caroline Mwatha Ochiengwho was a tireless campaigner against police brutality and illegal arrests in Kenya, and was involved in documenting these cases. Through the documentation of these systematic injustices, Caroline, a founding member of Dandora Social Justice Centre and member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group (the collective voice of social justice centers in the informal settlements in Nairobi), was exposed to police harassment and threats, but she never gave up and continued to fight for social justice. Earlier this month, she was murdered. Her disappearance and murder sends a terrifying message to human rights defenders and social justice activists who are fighting against systematic extrajudicial killings and police brutality in Kenya.

I recall a recent event that illustrates Caroline’s tireless commitment. On December 13, 2018, at 9 p.m., I received a distress call from an activist who had been illegally arrested and detained at the Kwa Mbao Administrative Police (AP) camp — an informal settlement where the Dandora community Social Justice Centre was monitoring human rights violations. Carol Mwatha was our team leader at the notorious Kwa Mbao AP camp, which is under the jurisdiction of the Dandora Social Justice Centre. She was responsible for monitoring and documenting cases of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings by security agencies.

Under the leadership of Carol Mwatha, we spoke to the officer in charge of the AP camp, who was supervising those who had been arrested in the raid that evening. We demanded the unconditional release of our comrades. They were being detained illegally for refusing to bribe a police officer, something that exposes many youth in these areas to extrajudicial killing. As a result of Carol Mwatha’s intervention, our comrades were released unconditionally.

……

The struggle against social injustice and deplorable living conditions exposed Carol Mwatha to dangers that eventually led to her disappearance on February 6 and her subsequent murder. Caroline’s body was dumped in the city mortuary under a different name on Tuesday, February 12, and the police reported a story of a botched abortion to cover up her murder.

Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was a tireless campaigner against police brutality and illegal arrests, and she was involved in documenting these cases and referring them to the independent Police Oversight Authority and other organizations that have been mandated to seek accountability and redress against human rights violations in Kenya. Through the documentation of these cases, Carol was exposed to serious police harassment and threats, but she never gave up and continued to fight for social justice.

In a rather bizarre twist, it turns out that the Catholic Church on Thursday refused to hold a requiem Mass for Caroline Mwatha on the grounds that postmortem results showed that she died as a result of excessive bleeding caused by possible abortion. Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops General Secretary Father Daniel Rono on Friday told the Star that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong. Similar sentiments were shared by National Council of Churches of Kenya Deputy General Secretary Reverend Nelson Makanda. “The sanctity of the foetus must be protected and that starts from conception. Once fertilisation occurs that is a human being and the child must be protected to its natural death. Anyone who aborts is a murderer,” he said.

Scottish Bar gives inaugural human rights award to Salome Nduta of Kenya

January 9, 2019

Salome Nduta receives her award from Lord Bonomy, Chair of the judging panel in Scottish Bar International Human Rights Award.

Salome Nduta, from Nairobi, Kenya, is a protection officer with the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, and was honored as the first winner of the Scottish Bar International Human Rights Award. [see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/scottish-bar-international-human-rights-award]

I was born and brought up in one of the informal settlements of Nairobi in Kenya – Korogocho. I experienced first hand deprivation and lack of necessities as a child. I saw the struggles of a single mother eking [out a living] for her children surrounded by poverty and human rights violations by both state and non-state actors. It is this kind of environment that laid the basis of my activism work. My journey of activism has been full of experiential moments that have continued to push me to the next level. In all these moments, the legal fraternity has walked with me side by side. In Korogocho, a legal advice centre first trained me as a paralegal and walked with me through my journey of campaign against forceful evictions and for demolition of informal settlements which saw me arrested a number of times for standing up against oppression. Korogocho and other informal settlements do still exist but there is now in place clear eviction and resettlement guidelines, a housing Act and article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 on social economic rights, as a result of the work of human rights defenders (HRDs). HRDs play a pivotal role in bringing and sustaining change. My activism life is a journey of moments and not just challenges, moments of falling, waking up, dusting yourself down and keeping on walking. Some moments are sad and some are joyous even when you are inhaling tear gas from canisters thrown by police.

“In each moment, one constant factor remains, change does occur! It is this change that keeps human rights defenders going. At times, it is difficult to see the change with our naked eyes but faith makes us believe that change has occurred or will occur, however long it takes, and that for me and other HRDs is sufficient. We are all blessed with characteristics that best describe us: patience, focus and dedication to the cause. My employer, NCHRD-K, deserves recognition and accolades for giving me the space and opportunities for growth and sharpening my skills to do what I love doing most, supporting human rights defenders. My daily tasks entail responding to distress calls from targeted HRDs day and night – targeted by both state and non-state actors – assessing their cases and advising on best suited intervention including legal, medical, psychosocial and relocation. The environment which HRDs operate in within the country cannot be described as entirely safe. I get satisfaction and strength when HRDs come and say, your intervention has brought me this far. In 2016, a human rights defender was sleeping in his house with his ten-year-old son Ainea, seven-month-old daughter and his wife. A petrol bomb was thrown into the house and it was by sheer luck that Ainea was still awake. He woke his parents. They safely got out, but everything else was burnt to ashes. This was the first time I was dealing with a case where children were involved. In 2018, the family invited us to the opening of their new home and I could not contain my emotions when I heard Ainea and his sister tell me thank you for the support to their family. Ainea declared he will support his father in his work as long as God gives him strength. For me this was a major change, winning a young boy into activism because he has seen it, lived it and emerged victorious. My passion is to give life to Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, where humanity is respected not just in rhetoric but in words and deeds.”

Read more at: https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/scottish-bar-salutes-salome-s-work-1-4852029