Human Rights in Kenya – Are we there yet?

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Police brutality. Image from http://www.bet.com/news/global/2013/02/15/kenyan-government-sued-for-police-brutality.html

We have come from far; from a place of colonialism, and blatant physical, and racist abuse to a period of democracy and learning the basic rights that should be held by every individual. Yet is it all freedom now? Have we come to a place where we can say every citizen in our country has all their rights protected? Does such a place even exist?

This week on the 10th of December we will be celebrating World Human Rights Day and BAKE in collaboration with the Canadian Embassy will be holding an event to commemorate this day. The focus of this forum will be to discuss and interrogate the state of human rights in Kenya. The event will bring together bloggers and human rights activists from different spheres in a conversation aimed to prod how far we have come in addressing human rights and how far we still need to go. The hope will also be to highlight Kenyan practices that violate basic human rights and freedoms.

It is sad and hard to admit but in our country human rights are violated every day. How many stories of physical and sexual abuse that were hidden in the dark come to light? How many cases of child degradation and molestation? Even the police, women’s rights which we have only recently started fighting so hard to protect are being violated quietly. The girl child and the boy child are both at risk of abuse in vile ways. One of the saddest recent re-occurrences is finding out that the people to whom we entrust our freedom, those who are supposed to preserve these rights don’t seem to give a crap’s piece about the citizens they are meant to be protecting.

Just yesterday it came to light that a mass grave with at least 12 bodies, including that of a mother of five, was found in a thicket in Mandera County on Sunday. It is believed the victims were among 59 people who have been reported missing in the county. The story sparked fears of a return of extra-judicial killings in an area where police and military forces have been battling Al Shahab militants.
Standard Media shared that even though the KDF spokesman, Colonial David Obonyo, vehemently denied any involvement it didn’t stop political leaders from the area pointing an accusing finger at KDF personnel whom they noted have been linked to a number of abduction and forceful disappearance of persons and even deaths.

A situation similar to the one mentioned above took place when a mass grave was discovered, where at least 11 bodies were found in Wajir, in May. The Star reported that in both cases the victims were reportedly arrested by men in unmarked vehicles who claimed to be policemen. Other people have also been reported missing in North Eastern, at the Coast and in upper Eastern, especially Marsabit, Moyale and Isiolo, and their mutilated bodies later found in thickets and shallow graves.

Human rights should be about protecting every citizen of the country regardless of their tribe, race, or religion. So it is heart-breaking to realize that the very people who swore an oath to protect this land and its citizens may be victimizing and carrying out their own court of law followed be extrajudicial killings.

A report released by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Muslims for Human Rights, a non-governmental group based in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2013, provided a chilling record of counterterrorism abuses by Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU). The report calls on the Kenyan government to hold ATPU officers accountable. It also calls on the foreign donor community to encourage Kenya’s ongoing police reforms and to withhold security assistance to ATPU units responsible for human rights abuses.

The report, “We’re Tired of Taking You to the Court,” underscores that the threat of terrorism to Kenya is real, but to address it, Kenya’s government must deepen its investment in counter-terrorism strategies that are supportive of human rights. Resorting to unlawful acts in an effort to fight terrorism is counterproductive.

In the words of Francis Auma, MUHURI’s peace and security officer, “Kenyans came together to pass a new constitution and police reforms with the goal of ending incessant police brutality and impunity. The ATPU is unravelling that progress with every beating, disappearance, and unlawful killing it commits; this will only be stopped if its officers know that they will be held accountable for all abuses.”

These issues should not be swept under the carpet and the World Human Rights Day is to bring to light some of these events and figure out what we, as individuals can do to counter them in out system…

Find out more about Marking World Human Rights Day function go to this link.

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