DEFENDING DEFENDERS

Lobbies launch drive to raise Sh50m for activists

They say right defenders are vulnerable to attacks in line of duty hence need to have someone watch their back

In Summary

•Kamau Ngugi, the executive director of NCHRD-K said his outfit has helped activists pay bonds, lawyers and even get to exile when threatened by the state

•The drive targets Sh50 million and will involve climbing Mt. Kenya by December 12.

Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga with Reverend Timothy Njoya and other activists when they unveiled the Climb for Justice initiative on Tuesday August 13, 2019 at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi
UNITED FOR A CAUSE: Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga with Reverend Timothy Njoya and other activists when they unveiled the Climb for Justice initiative on Tuesday August 13, 2019 at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi
Image: GORDON OSEN

 

Lobby groups on Tuesday launched a funds drive to raise Sh50 million to help human rights defenders.

The fund will safeguard the welfare of the activists who are often exposed to dangerous work conditions.

The groups said most human rights defenders, including journalists, have often found themselves at loggerheads with the state or its agents and questioned for unearthing misdoings by powerful officials. 

"This act, which requires courage and fearlessness, often lands them in court with hefty bail terms, detention or even attack by police or criminal elements," Kamau Ngugi said. Ngugi is the executive director of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, the organisation spearheading the funds drive.

He said human right activists risk their all to speak for and defend the rights of vulnerable members of the society but little attention has been put in safeguarding their welfare.

"Why is it that whenever human right defenders do something such as stand up to powers that be on matters corruption and misuse of public office, their lives get on danger and flee the country? This has been the case even in the old days when we were crusading against Moi regime," Ngugi said. 

He said his organisation has often helped rights defenders facing arbitrary arrests, direct attempt or threat on their lives or court cases. The lobby pays for their bonds, hires lawyers or facilitate their asylum.

They also do strategic public interest litigation where they challenge policies and laws harmful to the welfare and rights of the public.

"I have been running to embassies to convince ambassadors to give me money to help defenders. But this is no longer sustainable. That is why we must mobilise resources to protect our defenders who selflessly protect the weak in our country."

The drive was launched at the Serena Hotel and will run up to December 12.

The team has organised a Mount Kenya climbing drive as part of the initiative. 

Former Amnesty International country director Justus Nyang'aya moved the audience when he narrated how the coalition came to his help in 2014 when he came under a life-threatening attack as a result of his work.

Nyang'aya said he was lobbying the government to sign a treaty that would ban trade on small arms in the country and region when the attack happened. Five men broke into his Ongata Rongai home.

"They breached the gate and door, shot me in the chest, arm and also in the leg. The fourth one almost hit my forehead but I was lucky it missed, all the while wrestling them to protect my family," he said.

"One was engaging me in the fight as his accomplices collected valuables, then stepped out and knelt down, carefully aiming the gun at me. As he pulled the trigger, it produced no bullet. They had run out of bullets. I was lucky to live." 

NCHRD came to his rescue and paid his medical bill and procured counseling services for his wife and daughters.

Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga challenged rights activists to run for political offices "so that you drive away the barons who are currently mismanaging the country."

"Don't say politics is dirty. Who will clean it if you avoid it?" Mutunga said.

Politicians Martha Karua and Esther Passaris were among attendants at the dinner.

edited by peter obuya