The challenges of Human Rights Defenders in Kenya

Building the rule of law and respect of human rights in a post-conflict situation is challenging. The problems which are borne out of conflict are, notably, the loss of human lives, displacement of the population, destruction of property, trauma, sexual assault and violence.

Building the rule of law and respect of human rights in a post-conflict situation is challenging. The problems which are borne out of conflict are, notably, the loss of human lives, displacement of the population, destruction of property, trauma, sexual assault and violence.

These disastrous consequences contribute to instability and the destabilization of a country. Peace remains fragile. To reinforce the return of stability, specific situational context process must be adopted to include a harmonious balance between the fight against impunity, the necessities to create a solid base for a lasting reconciliation, the respect for human rights and the rule of law.

These fundamental issues must be integrated with an equal redistribution of resources and the participation of all. Kenya human rights defenders have faced extraordinary challenges throughout post-independence era yet they have worked intensely and with great courage.

But now is not the time to rest on their laurels, as this period of political transition offers both opportunities and challenges for the protection and promotion of human rights; particularly in an Opposition vanquished or demobilized scenario.

Human rights defenders are the experts on the historical lessons and understand current situation prevailing in Kenya. A great lesson has been the importance of a vibrant civil society and media in checking the excesses of ever crafty political class.

In the context of current conflict, and the threat to democratic rights, the unwavering commitment by civil society and the media to insist that human rights be upheld demonstrated the significance of these independent voices.

A vibrant, diverse civil society and a free and fearless media will continue to be essential in the transition period ahead. It is also essential that, human rights defenders maintain their independence from the political process, and defend the human rights of all Kenyans.

Human rights are not political, they do not pertain to only one group or other of society, and a shift in political power must not lessen vigilance of human rights defenders.

An important development we have witnessed during the current political crisis in Kenya is the rising tide of awareness of commitment to human rights by the wider Kenyan society.

Though there were cases of serious threats and extremisms, against independent voices of human rights defenders who rose above parochial and partisan ethnic politics.

The expressions of social solidarity, of the aims for a more inclusive society which does away with ingrained discrimination, offer great hope and opportunity for human rights in the future.

Discrimination on the basis of social orientation and ethnicity must be tackled in the new Kenya. Discrimination against women, which is often multiple discrimination as it is added to patriarchal systems and ethnicity-based discrimination, also needs to be systematically eradicated.

The positive and significant political developments that have happened, including the signing of the Political Agreement and the establishment of a grand coalition government, have raised great expectations, particularly with regard to an end to discrimination, inequalities and impunity.

As the peace process advances, the complexities of bringing about such changes, which require political will and the uprooting of deep-seated traditional patterns of prejudices and stereotypes, have become more apparent.

The enactment of new democratic constitution and undertaking comprehensive transitional justice policy remains a crucial step toward the creation of a more participatory, inclusive and equal society, but there are still obstacles to overcome in order for that reality to take place.

Equally the new government has to make strong commitments to human rights culture. These commitments must be seen through, in terms of policy and action.

Though there is continued commitment to human rights standards through political statements, political leadership must ensure that its cadres at all levels understand these commitments and fulfill them.

Even if difficulties arise in the political process, there must be no backing away from these commitments to protect human rights by any party.

While there has been established commitment to observe and adhere to the agreement between the government of Party of National Unity[PNU] and the Orange Democratic [ODM], it is essential that the parties move ahead rapidly to establish a credible and strong mechanism to monitor the implementation of the agreement.

This must include an effective mechanism for reporting and dealing with violations of the agreement, in order to ensure that problems which occur at the local level are dealt with quickly and fairly before they blow up into larger or intractable problems.

Another key issue for human rights defenders, seeking to consolidate the rule of law in the transition period and for the longer term, is that of accountability for present and past human rights violations.

There must be accountability for human rights violations of the past and the present. Without accountability and without justice, the culture of impunity will never end. Human rights defenders shall continue vigorously to call for action to resolve all outstanding cases of grave human rights violations.

Families and relatives of the affected should not have to wait any longer to see a thorough and credible process initiated by the State to unmask truth and administer justice. It is legal obligation and moral imperative. The issue of accountability for violations committed during the conflict and in the past has wider implications.

The process of prosecutions, assistance to victims, truth commission, and institutional reform are some of the measures which Kenya should adopt to address the consequences of the post-election violence violations and past human rights violations in order to rebuild a society based on respect for human rights and the rule of law.

It is important, that Kenyans have an open discussion about what measures are needed. This discussion itself must be inclusive, and especially bring in people from marginalized and discriminated against groups, victims and women.

One of the important lessons from other countries which have come out of conflict is that such transitional justice measures, in order to be effective, need the pro active engagement of members of civil society at all levels.

The hopes of Kenyans are very high, with constant calls on leaders to ensure that the political process ahead respects the aspirations for a fairer society, one that respects the human rights of all.

Fulfilling these hopes will require commitment and hard work from Kenyans from all walks of life. The human rights community of Kenya with their regional and other international friends must remain vigilant and maintain its integrity and independence.

It will need all to work hard to ensure that the political process is effective as a step toward a permanent end to perpetual conflicts in Kenya and that the political process respects and protects the human rights of all Kenyans.

Another prerequisite for creating a climate free of fear, impunity and intimidation will be the commitment of all parties, organizations and their constituencies to respect the peaceful views and progressive activities of others. Building trust and dialogue must replace threats, intimidation and acts of violence to resolve differences.

Security system must also take effective measures to end abuses by its cadres. Transforming a climate of impunity into a culture of accountability will be essential to a successful transformation and sustainable peace.

The lack of progress in addressing impunity is deeply worrying. It will require political will, courage and determination to move the process forward, but it is one that cannot wait.

The political ceasefire agreement still provide a historic opportunity to create a fully inclusive and democratic State which protects the human rights of all and enables all Kenyan people to participate equally and effectively in society governance. It is the responsibility of all parties and Kenyans to ensure that this promise is fulfilled.

Contact: wainainan@icpcafrica.

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