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United Nations urges Kenya to protect environmental activists

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The United Nations human rights experts on Wednesday urged Kenya to urgently take measures to protect defenders who have faced harassment and intimidation after they testified against a local lead smelter accused of environmental pollution.

The four UN rights experts said Alfred Ogola, Wilfred Kamencu, Anastacia Nambo and Kavumbi Munga and several others have been subjected to threats following the first hearing against the plant on May 17.

“Unknown people have visited their homes at night repeatedly banging on their doors, yelling at them to come out of their house. One of them had been attacked with an unknown substance which caused eye problems and swelling,” said the experts in a joint statement.

John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Michael Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, and Anita Ramasastry, chair of the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises said cases of lead poisoning have been reported in the area near the smelter.

The UN experts said the four Kenyans are due to testify again in a class action lawsuit against the government and the lead smelter for violating the right to a healthy environment guaranteed under Article 42 of the Constitution of Kenya.

This is the third time UN experts have called on Kenya to protect and promote the rights of the environmentalists.

The UN experts said they officially relayed their concerns to the government in 2014, 2017 and again last week but the government has not responded on any occasion.

“These environmental defenders should not face threats, harassment, and intimidation when they are exercising their rights legitimately through a legal action. On the contrary, they should be championed for upholding the Constitution of Kenya,” the experts said.

The UN rights experts called on the government to urgently launch a proper investigation and bring those who are responsible to justice.

Many of them have reported these threats to police, the experts said, however investigations appear slow and inadequate. The defenders fear for their safety and life, and are seeking for help to be relocated.

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