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Every year, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya joins with local and global partners to celebrate the International Human Rights Day to commemorate the United Nations General Assembly adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A 1950 resolution (423 (V)) invited all States and interested organizations to observe 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day. The theme of International Human Rights Day 2016 was very special. It called on everyone to ‘stand up for someone’s rights today!’ This is an invitation to every individual to be a human rights defender. It is an affirmation of the critical role that human rights defenders play in the society.

Human rights defenders and Civil Societies Organizations throughout the world defend the rights of others every day at great personal costs. Being the leading human rights defenders support organization in Kenya, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders- Kenya (NCHRD-K) has documented stories of success of individuals and the civil society sector in the promotion and protection of human rights, but also the grim reality of repression, intimidation, physical injury, and death that are lived experiences of persons that have committed to work towards the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

The kidnap, gruesome torture and eventual murder of human rights defender, lawyer Willy Kimani together with his client, Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri by Administration Police officers based in Mavoko (Machakos County) in June 2016 was a chilling reminder of the risks that individuals and groups in society were faced with because of pursuing justice and defending their own and other people’s rights and fundamental freedoms. Unfortunately, this is only among the few cases that are publicized. Annually, we receive hundreds of cases where individuals that spearhead the defense of human rights at national and community level are persecuted by state and private actors.

The advocacy around the Mavoko 3 case, as is popularly known, also served as reminder to the Government that its citizens were determined to stand up to defend human rights and the constitution. There were nation-wide public protests, work boycott and collective anger demonstrated against the heinous killing that forced the state to grudgingly investigate the murders, leading to the arrest and arraignment in court of the murder suspects. This is a rare act where police conduct investigations on crime committed by a colleague. Past incidents where HRDs have lost their lives and security forces were implicated have remained inconclusive.

The relationship between HRDs and CSOs actors on the one hand and the government on the other remains tense. There was increased legal and administrative restrictions as the state failed to operationalize the Public Benefits Organisation Act (2013) but was keen to introduce retrogressive amendments to limit foreign funding to CSOs; enacted media laws (Media Council Act (2013) and Kenya Information and Communication Amendment Act (2013)) that limit media freedom through punitive fines; and enactment of Security Law (Amendment) Act (2014) that affect the realization of fundamental human rights, including the right to privacy. There has been a worrying rise in the criminalization of CSOs through propaganda and smear campaigns that characterized CSOs as unaccountable, engaged in money laundering or supportive of terrorism act, allegations that were not proven in a court of law. Additionally, there were reported cases of physical attacks, threats, arbitrary arrest and malicious prosecutions of vocal HRDs.

While such acts were bent on harassment and intimidation of HRDs, their families and citizens at large, the commitment and resilience of HRDs remained firm. With support from NCHRD-K, HRDs developed very innovative programmes that successfully supported access to justice, protection of the marginalized groups, actively challenged impunity and ensured accountability for perpetrators. A collaborative project with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights documented and profiled, through film, social media and website, the successful work of human rights defenders that has touched the lives of many people at every corner of the country; while a search for the recipients of Human Rights Defender of the Year Award 2016 that was conducted by the Working Group  on Human Rights Defenders in Kenya affirmed how HRDs have overcome difficulties and sacrificed a lot to ensure that their communities were safe, and that human rights are promoted and protected at the grass root.

The NCHRD-K commits to remain innovative, support and coordinate collaboration among partners and to increase its presence at the community level. As highlighted in our Strategic Plan we will focus on building and strengthening community based protection and support networks. Our goal is to support existing networks to advance human rights defenders issues at county level, enhance their capacities to manage their security, document violations, and actively engage in joint advocacy.

The NCHRD-K has successfully offered timely intervention to HRDs at risk, coordinated joint CSO action to push back and reclaim operating spaces, build support network for HRDs at national and global level and has enhanced skills levels for HRDs in security management and documentation of violations. Our work has relied on strong and dependable network of human rights defenders, efforts of our partners, commitment of our staff and board members and the support of our funders that offered Core funding, Project funding or joint project implementation that has ensured holistic intervention for the realization of our Vision – human rights defenders working and living in a safe, secure and conducive environment.

Access the full report here: https://wp.me/aagr4K-La

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