During the final phase of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kenya at the Human Rights Council, Humanists International and Atheists in Kenya (AIK) challenged the Kenyan government on its poor record on protecting freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and sexual and reproductive health and rights. The statement was delivered by the Assistant Secretary of AIK, Kio Kinuthia, remotely by video.
Police violence and threats to freedom of expression and assembly
The freedom to protest in Kenya is a right which is frequently undermined by the violent actions of the police. In an echo of the post-election violence which took place in 2007 and 2017, peaceful protests in Kenya are often suppressed with arrests, teargas, beatings, and sometimes live ammunition.
As pointed out in the statement, journalists, activists and members of civil society who openly criticize President Kenyatta’s party continue to face harassment and intimidation from the State, and self-censorship is widely practiced. There is poor accountability for police abuses in Kenya, with a lack of political will to investigate suspected crimes.
During the review, Kenya accepted recommendations on enhancing human rights training for law enforcement officials and ending excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings. However, it also stated that the use of force by security personnel had at times been “misconstrued as excessive”, maintaining that, in some instances, such use of force is necessary in order to fight terrorism.
The organizations urged the government to take a firm position to end “its tacit endorsement of police violence.” They urged the government to repeal the Security Laws Amendment Act of 2014, which is a draconian law granting excessive powers to the police to deal with threats of terrorism without appropriate safeguards for human rights.
Calling for progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights
A second area of focus for the intervention was sexual and reproductive health and rights, in light of Kenya’s hosting of the Nairobi Summit in 2019.
As stated during its UPR, Kenya has plans to roll out universal health coverage across the country. AIK and Humanists International urged the government of Kenya to take positive steps to ensure that sexual and reproductive rights form an integral part of its universal healthcare plan.
Elective abortion remains illegal under the Kenyan Constitution and accessibility to information about safe abortion procedures is severely lacking. In light of this, AIK and Humanists International urged the government to pass the Reproductive Health Bill 2019. While falling in line with the Constitution’s view on elective abortion, the Bill nonetheless represents a step forward by seeking to improve post-partum care and access to educational opportunities and counselling on sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people. Religious leaders and pro-life activists have opposed the Bill on the erroneous grounds that it extends the legalisation of abortion beyond the Constitution. During the session, one conservative NGO called on Kenya not to listen to calls from “external forces” urging it to legalise abortion.
Read the full statement as delivered here.