Strengthening the Work of Grassroot Human Rights Defenders
By Evaline Waweru
Kenya has made remarkable strides in strengthening legal frameworks that protect Human Rights. Key among this is the amplification in the bill of rights of the various entitlements that allow citizens the Freedom to Assemble, Associate, and Express themselves in the defense of civil liberties and freedoms. These strides have encouraged many citizens to join the human rights movement thus creating a bigger pool of grassroot human rights defenders (HRDS) spread throughout the country. Their aim, to seek to hold accountable various actors on human rights issues.
HRDs work on matters that are at the core of social values and human dignity, and are often monitoring the state and non-state agencies and their compliance to human rights standards. While they will be seen on mass media going against the grain and accentuating ills that majority of individuals are either afraid of or unwilling to address, human rights defenders are mostly and quietly conducting public awareness on human rights that are entrenched within various laws and policies.
It is on this basis that the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights with the support of the German Embassy resolved to embark on a nine-month project of mapping and training of Human Rights Defenders from various regions including; Kisii, Garissa and Kajiado on the promotion and protection of their rights.
The mapping exercises if to conduct need assessments on human rights challenges faced by HRDs and their lack of awareness and understanding of their roles significance. Some of the challenges shared by the HRDS include; harassment, interference and intimidation by state and non-state actors, insecurity, corruption, lack of adequate resources, discrimination and sexual violence against women HRDs, and interference with the work of HRDs by both government agents and hostile cultural environments. These factors make it difficult for HRDs to promote human rights principles, and lack cooperation from police officers and amongst themselves.
It is on this basis that KNCHR customized trainings that focused on these thematic areas; introduction to human rights, who is a HRD, legal framework for the protection of HRDs and their work, and Personal and digital security management. Additionally effective human rights advocacy, resource mobilization for HRDs, Land Act, Principle of Compensation, The Sexual Offences Act including evidence preservation for sexual offences, and the monitoring and documentation of Human rights violations were also among the various subject matters that were tackled.
The HRDs tasked KNCHR as a state agency to consider formulating a vetting process of accrediting reputable and genuine HRDs to strengthen the monitoring of human rights in grassroot areas.
KNCHR Chairperson Ms. Kagwiria Mbogori present at one of the forums in Garrissa said that HRDs play a big role in enhancing the enjoyment of human rights since they cover vast regions that the Commission might not necessarily cover since the Commission does not have offices in all counties. While attending the HRD forum in Kisii County, KNCHR Commissioner Ms. Jedidah Waruhiu underscored the need for HRDs to develop a common strategy so that there is a deeper culture of accountability and less impunity. She also recognized that HRDs face a lot of violations and can easily get victimized because of the work they engage in.