NAIROBI (Xinhua) --
Three UN human rights experts
on Tuesday called on Kenya to cease its systematic crackdown on
civil society groups, which has intensified in the lead-up to
national elections scheduled in August.
The UN Special
Rapporteurs on freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association,
Maina Kiai; on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye;
and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst
said in a joint statement that they were extremely alarmed at
the increasing number of attacks on civil society as the
elections draw closer.
"It appears that there is a systematic and deliberate pattern
to crack down on civil society groups which challenge
governmental policies, educate voters, investigate human rights
abuses and uncover corruption," the UN human rights experts
"These issues are extremely important in a democracy, and
attempting to shut down the debate taking place in the civic
space threatens to irreparably taint the legitimacy of the
upcoming elections," they added.
The call came just a month after the Kenyan Interior Ministry
called for the closure of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
deemed to be "not properly licensed".
A government circular alleged the groups had been involved in
"nefarious activities" and claimed they posed a serious threat
to national security including money laundering, diversion of
donor aid and terrorism financing.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) -- the leading human
rights NGO in the country - was also threatened with
investigation, amid allegations of mismanagement and other
Officials have also called for the KHRC’s financial assets to
The experts said the authorities should not have discretion
to arbitrarily shut down associations, to decide which ones can
register, or to interfere in their day to day operations.
"The right to freedom of association is a fundamental right,
and like all fundamental rights, its exercise cannot be
predicated upon government permission," the experts said.
Several high-level officials have publicly condemned foreign
interference with the electoral process, especially through NGOs
working in the field of civic education.
The experts also highlighted as an obstacle the government’s
failure to implement the country’s Public Benefit Organization (PBO)
Act, which was signed on January 14, 2013, and has not been
gazetted. The legislation aims to provide a better enabling
environment for NGOs.
"It is astonishing that four years after its passage, the PBO
Act has yet to be operationalized, despite a court order
directing the government to do so," the experts said.
The experts urged the Kenyan government to gazette the law
immediately and more generally, to improve the environment for
civil society ahead of the elections.
"Elections are a time when governments should give people
more space—not less—to organize, voice their concerns and
express their collective will.
"We call on the government to expand this space, not to
contract it," said the experts.