ECLIPSED BY POLITICS

BBI must entrench respect for law human rights

Everyone is focusing on governance structure and powers of a new PM, but have we forgotten human rights?

In Summary

• The institutionalisation of a human rights framework at the national and county levels will  strengthen the oversight role of maintaining checks and balances

• The media also needs to continue playing its role in informing the public on the provisions of the Constitution.

Protesters march through Busia Street demanding justice for Liz.
JUSTICE: Protesters march through Busia Street demanding justice for Liz.
Image: FILE

As we await the Building Bridges Initiative draft bill on constitutional changes, it is important to reflect on the Bill of Rights and the neutral application of public policy, governance and service delivery.

This is because much as we want to create new provisions, the culture of human rights is being eroded in our public psyche and practice - given the  recent police brutality and the curtailing of freedoms of movement and assembly?

Interestingly, civic and political education, usually described as voter education, is conducted by both civil society and various political groupings, especially around elections. While the civil society has engaged in civic education programmes on themes such as human rights, democracy and governance and constitutionalism, most of the initiatives have been usually short term - when there is lots of donor funding.

It is, therefore, important to move the discourse further by extrapolating what these rights actually mean to the various state and non-state actors and, indeed, the general citizenry.

The various roles of state agencies need to be audited with the aim of institutionalising human rights education as a core and continuous mandate of these organs, including ministries, departments, agencies, constitutional commissions and independent offices.

This is important because save for the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, human rights education has largely been left to the civil society and international actors, thereby being externalised from government.

To ensure a human rights culture, there is need to educate the 'educated' in particular; the judicial service, the state law officers, the security services staff and all public officers since they are and shall be the primary processors and administrators of human rights as part of service delivery.

Further, mechanisms should be revised on how to educate the general public on how to understand the Bill of Rights as a basis for their demanding vis a vis taking responsibilities/obligations, since for every right, there is a responsibility. This will avert unnecessary bottlenecks in the quest for social justice and further to create synergies between the state, non-state actors and the general public.

It would also be important, therefore, that the content of human rights education be informed primarily by the Bill of Rights as currently provided by the Constitution, international human rights instruments such as the Convention on Economic and Socio-Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities,a mongst other international customary laws (juscogens). All the above are domesticated in Article 2(3) to be part of our municipal laws.

The Kenya National Human Rights Policy and the National Plan of Action should act as a basis for mainstreaming of the human rights based approach to service delivery at all levels. This is so because the implementation of economic and socio-cultural rights (Article 43) such as the right to water, housing, food and education is in fact the day-to-day work of key government Ministries, Department and Agencies.

Through human rights education, the citizenry should be encouraged to use public interest litigation as a means of exerting their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This should be coupled with extensive capacity-building of a devolved civil society at the county level as a means of providing checks and balances for county government in order to mitigate the 'devolution' of cancerous vices such as tribalism, intra-tribalism and corruption as is currently the practice.

In addition, the institutionalisation of a human rights framework within  Chapter 15: Commissions and Independent Offices at the national and county levels will serve to strengthen the oversight role of maintaining checks and balances, as a fourth arm of government.

Further, the media also needs to continue playing its role in informing the public on the provisions of the Constitution, and encourage debate on the best ways of implementation, without only focusing on certain politically correct provisions as is currently the case.

Moreover, human rights education must be seen within the wider context of enhancing public policy, governance and the culture of rule of law within a guard of both national interest and cohesion for the prosperity of our country, Kenya.

The big question is that after implementing the Constitution for the last 10 years, are we certain that we have fully explored its provisions, especially Chapter Four on the Bill of Rights, or the transformational Chapter Six on Leadership and Integrity, that would guarantee good quality of leaders that we seek in the proposed new structures of governance?

The answer is a big no and so therefore, how do we safeguard this going forward?

How do we make our elections, the quality of leaders and their respect for the rule of law, human rights and political accountability more guaranteed and institutionalised?