Kenya: Proposed reforms will dramatically undermine human rights

A series of amendments to a bill regulating the work of non-governmental organizations in Kenya will, if passed, dramatically undermine freedom of expression and human rights in the country, Amnesty International said today.

“The level of control Kenyan authorities are trying to impose on NGOs is shameful. These organizations play a critical role in helping communities realise basic human rights through provision of services such as health and education,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director.

“A cap on the external funding they can receive would have a devastating impact on their capacity to help those in most need.”

Proposed amendments to the Public Benefits Organizations (PBO) Act would, include limits on the level of external funds an organization can receive and give the Regulatory Authority broader powers over registering NGOs and granting them permits.

They would also increase government control over NGOs. The amendments are expected to be tabled in Parliament in the coming weeks.

“Instead of continuing to limit space for debate and criticism, authorities in Kenya should engage in discussions with activists and society at large to find ways for human rights to become a reality for all,” said Sarah Jackson.

The PBO Act is not the only legal regime under which civil society organizations can register in Kenya. However, opting out of registration is likely to bring its own administrative difficulties, and the amendments lack any provision for voluntary deregistration as a PBO.

Media and police reforms Kenya’s Parliament has also recently debated a Media Bill which would severely restrict freedom of expression and human rights.

The Kenya Information and Communications Bill, passed on 31 October, proposes the establishment of a state-controlled tribunal to scrutinize the work of journalists and impose hefty fines for violations of the Code of Conduct. The bill awaits presidential assent, and there are indications that President Uhuru Kenyatta may oppose it in its current form.

The National Police Service Act and National Police Service Commission Act Amendment Bills provide for greater political oversight of police force hiring and vetting processes. They also allow for wider police use of firearms. The bills were due for debate in Parliament this week.

“The package of bills being brought before parliament is just a veiled attempt by the authorities to silence any kind of criticism of the worrying state of human rights in Kenya,” said Sarah Jackson.