Stop intimidating civil society organisations in Kenya

August 17, 2017

Hivos condemns the unwarranted attempts by the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) Co-ordination Board at intimidating civil society organisations in Kenya. Their attempts to de-register the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AFRICOG) are unlawful and must be understood as part of an ongoing broader agenda to delegitimise civil society, clamp down on public accountability and scrutiny, and unjustifiably limit the freedom of expression of citizens.  There have also been directives, orders and legal attempts to raise barriers against civil society operational activities, advocacy, expression, assembly and resources.

As these events unfold, it is worth noting that the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, where the NGO Coordination Board is situated, has been in contempt of a court order to commence the Public Benefits Organisations Act 2013 since 19 June 2017.

AFRICOG and KHRC are both leading human rights organisations that have experienced intimidation, threats and attacks for championing constitutional leadership and integrity, transparency, public accountability, civic participation and good governance. Individual officials within the management and membership of these organisations have also repeatedly come under personal attack for supporting judicial and other public accountability processes against public officials. Both organisations continue to be vocal on free, fair and credible elections, and the fight against corruption.

More broadly, there is a glaring failure of the state to protect activists from threats, intimidation, violence and even killings. This has created a climate of fear and trepidation.

Violation of personal rights and freedoms

The attempt to deregister AFRICOG and KHRC is unwarranted and a clear failure of the State’s positive obligation to protect the rights and operations of civil society. Notably, the alleged grounds of non-compliance against the KHRC were determined by a High Court and cannot be purported to be outstanding issues against the organisation.

Where the dissolution of a civil society organisation is justified, the NGO Board must always be guided by lawful processes, objective standards and not arbitrary decision making. The Board and other state agents must also refrain from interfering with or violating individuals’ personal rights and freedoms.

The broader obligations of the State, in addition to the strong Bill of Rights in Chapter Four of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, are both international and regional. Various African and international instruments require Kenya to uphold, advance and protect freedom of association and the rights of human rights defenders. These include but are not limited to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) resolutions on protection of human rights defenders and the right to freedom of association. Internationally, key instruments are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the landmark UN resolution on protection of human rights defenders.

We call upon all civil society nationally, regionally and globally to stand in solidarity against actions that threaten and further shrink the already diminishing civic space and attempts to delegitimise civil society. We all have a responsibility to take action against the failure of states to provide an enabling regulatory, operational and visionary space for civil society.

Hivos is a global organisation that seeks new solutions to national and regional issues affecting transparency, equality, abuse of power and sustainable use of resources. Our primary focus is achieving structural change in cooperation with innovative businesses, civil society, citizens and their organisations. We share a dream with them of sustainable economies and inclusive societies.