Our Chief Guest, Your Excellency Hon. Josphat Nanok, Governor of Turkana County
The Permanent Secretary, State Department of Gender and Youth, Hon. Safina Kwekwe
The Senior Human Rights Advisor, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Marcella Favretto
The Governor of Nairobi County, Hon. Mike Mbuvi Sonko
Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Representatives from Constitutional Commissions and Independent Offices
Civil Society Partners
Our friends from the Media fraternity Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning.
Ladies and Gentlemen, for humanity to determine its collective destiny, which is what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10th December 1948 requires us to do…For we, the people of this country, we the people of this continent and we the people of this world to say in one collective voice that this is where we are going or that this is where we want to go in matters human rights, it is always important for us to look back, look back to our past, so that we may be able see where we have come from and how far we have travelled to get to the present. We look back to the past so that we may draw vital lessons from the mistakes we’ve made on our long journey to the present, so that we do not repeat those mistakes; But we also look back to the past so that we may celebrate and acknowledge the gains and the progress we’ve made on our journey to the present, so that we may build on those gains and that progress, moving forward.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the present state-centric international global order as we know it today was born following the terrible Thirty Years of War (1618 to 1648), which led to the death of 8 million people and ended with the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648…With the signing of this Treaty, the notion of Sovereigns, who would be effectively in charge and in control of both their regions and religions was established. Great minds such as Thomas Hobbes and Jean Jacques Rousseau came up with theories and ideas on how these sovereigns should govern their respective regions and religion.
In his famous book, The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes called for a stronger and an all-powerful Sovereign who would protect us from our primordial instincts present in our State of Nature existence. On his part, in The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau cautioned us that we cannot be governed without our express consent and that those who govern us must do so on the basis of a mutually agreed upon social contract between them ‘those governing’ and us, ‘those being governed’.
Yet, and unfortunately, the state-centred order that was created in 1648 did not give us an international order where the Sovereigns respected their respective rights of the regions or religions under their control, or even those of other Sovereigns. Instead, that world order was characterized by cut-throat competition between and among states driven by a mercantilist mind-set which increasingly led to ‘beggar thy neighbor’ trade and economic policies; alliance- building and balance of power politics; entrenched racism, slavery and colonialism… This world order could not hold for long and things completely fell apart with the TWO WORLD WARS whose scale of death and destruction shocked the collective conscience of Mankind.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, why have we gathered here today? It’s precisely because of what I said a few minutes ago…That the TWO WORLD WARS shocked the collective conscience of all mankind and demanded that Humanity must, in one accord, come up with a Global Covenant that would ensure that ‘NEVER AGAIN,WILL THE WORLD BE DRIVEN INTO A STATE OF CONFLICT ON THE SCALE WITNESSED IN WWI and WWII. For in the wake of these two terrible wars, characterized by widespread civilian suffering and the systematic extermination of six million people during the Holocaust, the international community proclaimed, for the first time, a set of Fundamental Human Rights that must be Universally Protected.
We are here today because enough people ignored the voices of those who told them that the world had been irreparably damaged by the TWO WORLD WARS AND THAT IT COULD NEVER CHANGE FOR THE BETTER AGAIN. We are here because of the courage of those who, like the theme of this 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stood up for Human Rights. Those who took risks to say that Human Rights are for ALL…Not ALL of one kind, but ALL…Men, Women, PWDs, Children, Racial and Ethnic Minorities, Sexual Minorities, Whites, Blacks, Browns, Yellows, People of Color, the Elderly…You name them…The One Supreme Qualification needed for all these people to enjoy unqualified and unfettered Human Rights to the Fullest is this: THAT THEY ARE HUMAN-BEINGS.
Today, Seventy Years Ago, Delegates from six continents devoted themselves to drafting a declaration that would enshrine the fundamental rights and freedoms of people everywhere. Many nations pressed for a statement of this kind to help ensure that we would prevent future atrocities and protect the inherent humanity and dignity of all people. And so the delegates went to work. They discussed, they wrote, they revisited, revised and rewrote, for thousands of hours. And they incorporated suggestions and revisions from governments, organizations, and individuals around the world. In the end, the following Universal Proclamation was made: And I quote
“…That every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction…”.
So, what is our score as a country when the foregoing proclamation is marked against our present Human Rights record? Bearing in mind the regional and international human rights standards, we must make Our Constitution the marking scheme of that score. Eight (8) years ago, and perhaps keen to escape Thomas Hobbes State of Nature and in celebration of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s guidance in the Social Contract, WE the People of Kenya, peacefully went to the ballot through a democratic referendum, and made the choice to claim the promise of a new day through the enactment of a new constitutional order. Drawing vital lessons from the past and keen on making an onward journey grounded in Human Rights, we gave ourselves a robust Bill of Rights as a cardinal reference point on matters human rights in our Republic. But having a robust Bill of Rights and living in an environment that respects and upholds human rights are two different things. As I will show in the few examples below, there can be no denying the fact that we have made some gains in our Human Rights journey as a country. Yet, at the same time, we cannot run away from the fact that a lot more still needs to be done if Human Rights are to be fully enjoyed by ALL KENYANS ALL THE TIME [HAKI KWA WOTE KILA WAKATI].
1. It is true that we no longer have or talk about detentions without trial or the dreaded torture that used to take place in Nyayo and Nyati Houses..Yet, it is also true that many Kenyans continue to be arrested on flimsy grounds and many are not produced in our courts of law within the required 24 Hours…What is more, our prisons are teeming with inmates—mostly from the lower echelons of society— serving jail terms mostly on petty crimes and offences…But we are encouraged by the fact that through Chief Justice David Maraga, the Judiciary has stood up for the rights of these Kenyans by setting up a Taskforce to carry out a comprehensive review of our Penal Code…We as a Commission are Members of that Taskforce and it is my hope that when it finally submits its report, among its key recommendations will be that no Kenyan should be incarcerated on such petty offences as being drunk and disorderly or loitering. When it comes to cases of torture, like I said, I am happy that we no longer have Nyayo and Nyati Houses Torture Chambers…But we cannot run away from the fact that our informal settlements have become the new Nyayo and Nyati Houses, especially for the youth living in these settlements…I am happy that we now have the Prevention of Torture Act 2017, and that we as a Commission have been given the mandate of monitoring the implementation of this Act…We assure Kenyans that we will faithfully discharge our obligations as spelled out in the Act.
2. There can be no denying the fact that Kenya has one of the most vibrant Civil Society Organizations and Media in the region… Yet, we must also acknowledge the fact that since 2013, the CSOs and Media have come under increasing attacks, especially from the Executive Arm of Government, mostly for no other reason than the fact they were Standing Up for Human Rights…For Someone’s Rights…We have seen threats of closure, actual closures, threats of deregistration and actual deregistration of some Members of these key actors in the promotion of Human Rights in Kenya..We at the Commission are proud to state that we have always stood in solidarity with the CSOs and the Media whenever these unwarranted attacks were directed against them…We will continue doing so…But we also now take this opportunity to ask the Executive Branch of Government to stand up for the rights of a vibrant Civil Society and Media in Kenya…As we have done in the past, we take the opportunity on this auspicious occasion to call upon the Government to operationalize the PBO Act of 2013…This act provides a sound framework for the enhancing the efficiency of Civil Society while at the same time promoting a healthy co-existence between CSOs and the State…Full implementation of the PBO Act will create a win-win outcome for both the CSOs and the State…It will also boost our Rule of Law index since our courts have already issued orders that the Act be operationalized…only for the same to be disregarded by the Executive.
3. We are happy that at Article 26, our Constitution protects the sanctity of life…Yet we are deeply concerned by the continuing reports of Extra-Judicial Killings, especially of Kenyan youth in the informal settlements or those suspected to be terrorists…Once again, we at the Commission want to state that EJKs have no place and that they must never be allowed to have a place in our Country…Everybody, including suspected criminals, must be held to be innocent until proven guilty…We are therefore encouraged by renewed and multi-sectoral police reforms spear-headed by CS Dr. Fred Matiang’i and the initiatives currently being undertaken by Mr. Noordin Haji, the DPP and his entire ODPP team to address the issue of EJKs..We want to thank the DPP and his team for standing up for Human Rights and urge them to continue doing so until the ‘jungle-justice’ approach epitomized by EJKs is eliminated from our Country…What is more, we continue joining the voices of other actors, especially the Law Society of Kenya, in asking the President to set up of a Commission of Inquiry to probe all acts of EJKs.
4. Yes, it is true that in keeping with one of the key requirements of representative democracy, we have held periodic elections since 1963, the most recent one being the just concluded 2017 General Election…Yet, the question remains whether these elections have always passed the litmus test of being free, fair and credible…Some of the elections held in this country, like the infamous 1988 queue- voting system have been serious electoral facades that have done more to damage the age-old practice of secret-ballot voting while others, like the 2007/08 and 2017 general elections came close to tearing our country apart…Elections must never be turned into bloody life and death contests…We must continue working for electoral reforms that will lead to a free, fair and credible electoral outcome where the winners win clean and the losers lose clean…However, a worrying trend that was recorded by the Commission in both 2007/08 and 2017 was the use and deployment of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in electoral conflict situations…Now we may not agree on a number of things when it comes to our elections and politics of elections…But let us all agree on this one thing: THAT SEXUAL AND GENDER BASED VIOLENCE HAS NO PLACE IN OUR ELECTORAL POLITICS…We must all stand up for the rights of the victims and survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence by continuing our calls upon the Government to remove its Reservations on Article 14 (2) (c) of the Maputo Protocol which allows women to seek safe and legal medical abortion in cases of Rape, Incest or Conflict…What is more, we will continue calling upon Parliament to debate the election reports we have submitted with the goal of working with us on the implementation of the recommendations contained therein.
5. Kenyans have in recent years received the good news of the discoveries of mineral resources within her boundaries— notably Oil and Coal…Yet, if these resources are not managed properly, and if they are not managed from a human rights perspective, they could easily become a resource-curse with dire socio-economic and environmental consequences for the Country… It is therefore important that we manage our key business transactions in this sector within the UNGPs on Business and Human Rights...I want to most sincerely thank the Office of the Attorney for standing up for human rights in this regard…The AGs Office and the Commission are in the process of finalizing a National Action plan and Policy on Business and Human Rights and the same should help us in channeling our newly discovered mineral resources into Wealth for all within a human rights framework.
6. Kenyans are well aware that corruption is a key enemy to the realization of human rights for all… As a country, we are particularly encouraged by the renewed zeal and vigour that have been shown by the DCI and the ODPP in the war against graft…Yet, we are also equally concerned by the fact that Corruption seems to be growing exponentially with the growth in our National Budget…When our National Budget was KES 1.8 Trillion, corruption robbed us of a third of that figure (KES 600 Billion to be exact)…Now that our budget is KES 3 Trillion, corruption is said to be robbing us of a third of that figure (KES 1 Trillion to be exact)…WHAT A PERFECT CONSTANT! One would be tempted to conclude that the merchants of corruption must be keen on factoring in the cost of inflation in their grand graft schemes!...Kenyans must tame the thieves…This can only happen through effective coordination and collaboration of the key agencies charged with fighting graft (the Judiciary, the DCI, the ODPP and the EACC)…We at the Commission urge these agencies to go for the corrupt with ruthless efficiency since doing so is truly standing up for the rights of Wanjiku..
7. Given our history and our plans for the future as a Country, the human rights agenda must continue to remain both a priority and a guiding principle in our development agenda…This means that Government must commit and dedicate more resources to key human rights institutions in the Country…Human rights and development are mutually reinforcing and as such, we call upon the government, as they prioritize the big four agenda, to also prioritize investing in the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights. Earlier in the year, the Judiciary, a critical human rights institution, came out to tell Kenyans that its operations were going to be affected due to severe budgets cuts. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has not been spared either and has already suffered two major budget cuts halfway through the financial year. We are therefore, once again, calling upon the Government to adequately fund our work so that we may effectively discharge our mandate.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as you can see from the few examples I have given here, it is important for us to know that as we mark the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here today, we have made some progress but we still have a number of challenges to surmount. But perhaps what is even more important to note is that while the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity for ALL. The principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were in 1948. In marking today’s 70th Anniversary, we are celebrating and honoring our past…But even as we do so, let us all strive for a better future guided by the persistent power of human rights.
The universal nature of Human Rights offers us a never-ending opportunity, which allows us to continue bridging our divisions; building upon our hopes, and accepting to take on the challenge and need for not only standing up for our own rights, but also, for the rights of all our fellow human-beings.
I thank you all for listening to me…Asanteni sana.