UN to Kenya: Stop organized harassment of human rights defenders


Kenyan law enforcement agencies have systematically harassed and intimidated human rights defenders, a United Nations independent expert said, expressing outrage at threats made against those who have cooperated with the world body.

“Dozens of prominent and respected human rights defenders have been targeted in a blatant campaign designed to silence individual monitors and instill fear in civil society organizations at large,” with many rights defenders having been forced into hiding or exile, said Philip Alston, the special rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions.

The Kenyan police and military are violating the most basic rules governing the treatment of the world body’s fact-finding missions, he underscored.

“Non-cooperation with a UN mission is one thing, but making threats against those that have provided information to the UN, as well as harassing their families, is quite another,” the expert stressed.

Last month, Oscar Kamau Kingara, founder of the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic, along with a co-worker, was gunned down in Nairobi, one week after meeting with Mr. Alston.

Mr. Kingara’s foundation had provided testimonies of family members of people who had been allegedly killed by police to the special rapporteur and, in 2007, had published a report entitled “License to Kill – Extrajudicial Executions and Police Brutality in Kenya.”

According to Mr. Alston, the Kenyan government has accused the Oscar Foundation of having close links to a criminal gang, the Mungiki.

“We try to take every possible precaution to ensure the security of those that we speak with. At the end of the day if you have a very determined and ruthless group that is going to punish and intimidate these people, there isn’t much that can be done,” he said.

The expert noted Wednesday that “all indications seem to point to the face that the campaign has been carefully coordinated within the government,” with people from a range of civil society groups having been targeted, threatening telephone messages having been left for many prominent public figures and security forces having frequently visited and threatened family members of defenders who have fled.

President Mwai Kibaki, Internal Security Minister George Saitoti and others who control the security have not spoken out against the intimidation of the rights defenders, Mr. Alston noted, and there have been no substantive responses to complaints lodged by the UN.

The expert – who, like all UN special rapporteurs, reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an unpaid, independent capacity – called on the Kenyan Government to immediately publicly order the police and military to end the intimidation and harassment of the defenders.

“The international community can not stand by as Kenya responds to findings highlighting human rights violations by unleashing an attack on those struggling to document and respond to such violations,” he said.