Kenya: Government must commit to action on freedom of expression and association

ARTICLE 19 welcomes Kenya’s commitment to freedom of expression and association during the recent UN Universal Periodic Review and urges the government to also accept the recommendation to review the 2018 Associations Bill and ensure that NGO laws are in line with the right to freedom of expression.

“Kenya now needs a commitment to action and ensure that these promises become a reality. During the last UPR review in 2015, the government has also accepted many recommendations which were never implemented. In fact, some of these recommendations were repeated during this session of the UPR,” said Mugambi Kiai, director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

During the January 2020 review, the government accepted the recommendations to guarantee the freedoms of expression, press, association and peaceful assembly. It also committed to implement the Public Benefits Organization Act and the Access to Information Act. Further, the government agreed to strengthen the independence of the media, take steps to ensure the safety of journalists, and ensure a safe environment for human rights defenders. It will in addition create a data protection framework in line with the international standards on the right to privacy.

In 2015, Kenya accepted a wide range of recommendations including to specifically guarantee freedom of expression, press, associations and peaceful assembly of journalists, activists and participants in demonstrations in both law and practice.

But to date, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is not sufficiently protected in Kenyan law, and the right is routinely violated by law enforcement authorities responding to protests. The government has also failed to put in place measures to ensure the safety and protection of journalists, bloggers, and others expressing their opinion.

“The government should further demonstrate its commitment to protecting the rights to freedom of expression and association and review the Associations Bill. If passed into law, this bill would criminalise holding ‘unregistered’ meetings, in violation of the rights to the freedom of association and expression.”

The Associations bill provides for the mandatory registration for all associations and includes impermissibly broad criteria for declaring associations unlawful. It contains severe criminal penalties for operating or attending a meeting of unregistered organisation and for managing or helping to manage an unlawful association.

Kenya’s state report, submitted in November 2019, was reviewed at the 3rd cycle of the UPR on 23 January 2020 by the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. The 118 delegations who participated in the interactive dialogue, made a total of 319 recommendations. Out of the 319, Kenya accepted 261 recommendations, noted 53, and is still examining 5 recommendations with a response expected no later than the forty-forth session of the Human Rights Council to be held between 15 June 2020 to 03 July 2020.

The Universal Periodic Review is a unique mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council, through which each UN Member State makes commitments to improve its human rights record, following an assessment of progress made against previous commitments.