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KNCHR Focuses on Engagement Of Human Rights Defenders At The Grassroots.

Justice David Majanja (seated 4th left) joins the KNCHR’s Western Region Office staff members and members of the Kisii County Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) during a 3 days meeting geared towards enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights defenders and access to justice. (Photo Courtesy: KNCHR 2019)

KNCHR Focuses on Engagement Of Human Rights At The Grassroot

By Dominic Kabiru

In its strategic bid to strengthen its partnership with members of the public at the grassroot level, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has initiated targeted engagements at the Counties in form of capacity building and trainings. The first engagement organized by the Commission focused on an advocacy platform on human rights that brought together human rights defenders, civil society organizations and local administrators based in Kisii County. This was a first in a nine-month series of engagements that the Commission is undertaking geared towards enhancing the promotion and protection of the rights of human rights defenders in Kisii, Garissa and Kajiado Counties. 

 The first meeting which took place in Kisii, town between 20th and 23rd May 2019 had a collective participation of 40 participants who were taken through the various elements of   human rights accountability.

The public awareness forum which was organized by the Commission’s Western Region Office under the stewardship of the Regional Coordinator Ms Jacqueline Ingutiah, is part of the Commission’s purposeful bold step of supporting and advocating platforms that will go a long way to promote and deepen the culture of human rights and fundamental freedoms among the members of the public.

Civil society organizations and human rights defenders based in Kisii County were identified as the key link between the members of the public and the duty bearers in highlighting specific human rights issues that require concerted efforts by all persons who are charged with the responsibility of protecting and promoting people’s rights and fundamental freedoms.

During the three days sessions, participants were reminded of their role in the promotion and protection of human rights, investigation and documentation of human rights violations, effective human rights advocacy and human rights based approach in the quest for a society that upholds the enjoyment of human rights. The training for the human rights defenders also focused on specific areas of property law, with specific focus on land rights, matrimonial property law and the law of succession. These were identified as areas that have borne the brunt of human rights abuses especially in the rural areas.

Following the release of the Commission’s report on sexual and gender based violence - during the 2017 general election - titled “Silhouettes of Brutality”, the Commission also brought to the fore the provisions of Sexual Offences Act to the participants including; various offences under the Act and the mandatory penalties; medical treatment for victims and offenders; vulnerable witnesses; child offenders and extraterritorial jurisdiction of the Act. The human rights defenders and the local administrators were called upon to familiarise themselves with the sexual offences Act and endeavour to act as the custodians in the protection of any arising sexual and gender based violence in their locale. The participants narrated cases of specific incidences of incest, defilement, rape (both male and female), and wife beating as the most common sexual and gender based violence cases.   Ms. Ingutiah, in particular, pointed out the severity of sexual offences against children and emphasised the need for human rights defenders to protect children.

As a backdrop to the cases that have been reported across the country on the curtailing and muzzling of human rights workers in their line of duty, the training also had a specific agenda of highlighting the multi-sectoral approaches to end violations against human rights defenders and the rendering the civil society players the space they require to do their work uninhibited.

Ms Gloria Madegwa from the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (NCHRDs) was also at hand to make a presentation that focused on arbitrary arrests, threats and intimidation, killings, abduction, harassment, discrimination and negative profiling of human rights defenders. The participants were advised that apart from adopting protection strategies such as reporting to the police, they should build solidarity amongst themselves as human rights defenders. The involvement of the NCHRD in the training was important since the human rights defenders had a chance to establish links with the NCHRD which can step in to support them in many ways, including arranging for their protection whenever they are facing threats as a result of their work. 

The training session was also graced by Justice David Majanja, the Presiding Judge at Kisii Law Courts.  Justice Majanja emphasised that the judiciary was there to work for the public and to meet their justice needs. He noted that there are many justice challenges, especially those touching on land matters including succession that form majority of land disputes in court, with forgery and fraud being the main cause of the disputes. He urged the human rights defenders to support mediation even outside the court process. The Judge allowed the participants to ask questions related to access to justice in the larger Kisii County.  Among the queries raised by human rights defenders focused on lost files; corruption amongst court officials; mishandling of litigants and human rights defenders; poor evidence collection and storage especially in cases of sexual offences; delay in prosecution, backlog of cases; poor investigations by the investigative agencies and laxity by lawyers assigned  to take up murder and defilement cases.  

Justice David Majanja emphasised that the human rights defenders needed to fight the culture of silence and collusion in the face of human rights violations. The Judge also mentioned that the issue of improving investigations and protection of witnesses requires a coordinated approach and the Kisii Court Users Committee (CuC) is trying to improve the situation.

On the side-lines of the training programme for the human rights defenders the KNCHR Commissioner Jedidah Waruhiu made a courtesy call to the Vice-Chancellor of Kisii University, Prof. John S. Akama and the University Dean, School of Law, Dr. Nyagaka. This came at an apt time following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Commission and Kisii University a month ago.

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