• Lack of emergency legal services cited for a spike in domestic violence and police brutality.
• Lobby says enhancing access to legal aid would help people understand emergency regulations and new legislation.
Failure to list legal services as essential is hindering access to justice in rural Kenya, a lobby has said.
The penetration of internet and digital technology in most rural areas is low.
The Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists said rural areas already have a deficit in accessing justice.
This has been worsened by restrictions on movement and activities because of the coronavirus outbreak, it said.
The High Court directed Interior CS Fred Matiang’i to list legal services as essential, but this has not been done. Providers of essential services are allowed to operate during the curfew hours.
The lobby said with no access to courts and limited time and movement for lawyers, Kenyans are left exposed to rights abuses with no adequate recourse.
This is contained in a summary of a webinar that brought together law players in East and Horn of Africa.
The ICJ said this deficit has precipitated a spike in domestic and gender-based violence and the situation is so bad that “in some cases, victims of abuse cannot access healthcare services”.
This, the ICJ said, has also increased the exposure of children to sexual predators, forced child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Brutal police enforcement of the curfew has thrived in this vacuum, it said, as law professionals are unable to move at night and in and out of restricted areas to provide urgent intervention.
The government has banned movement in and out of Nairobi Metropolitan area, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Mandera.
“Lockdown measures have seen a rise in cases of evictions, arbitrary arrests, dismissal by employers and demands for bribes by security and or health officials for failure to either adhere to curfew timelines or wear protective clothing in public,” the ICJ said.
This surge in rights violations is disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities such as persons with psychosocial disabilities living on the streets, as the state directives have not taken into consideration this group that is unable to access information and fully understand the current context, the ICJ added in the communiqué.
“When the security forces encounter such vulnerable persons, they do not respond to their needs, instead they use force to administer directives.”
In mitigation, it said, the government must “integrate justice efforts into national Covid-19 strategies and stimulus packages and recognise that justice providers are essential workers during pandemic crisis and recovery”.
The lobby said enhancing legal aid access would help people understand emergency regulations and new legislation.
It said lawyers are critical to ensuring equal access to healthcare and any future vaccine, supporting victims of gender-based and domestic violence, navigating social welfare and other public services, helping small businesses to access business loans and more.
Edited by R.Wamochie