HUMAN RIGHTS

Restoring Kenyans’ dignity from ashes of the pandemic

Article 19 (1) provides that “the Bill of Rights is an integral part of Kenya’s democratic state

In Summary

• Extrajudicial killings, femicide, enforced disappearances, rape, defilement and assault have all been widely reported in the country.

• While all this is happening, the authorities are not doing enough to stop the abuses.

Fighting abuse
Fighting abuse
Image: OZONE

According to Missing Voices, Kenya police killed 157 people in 2020, making it one of the deadliest years since the network started keeping the records. It is a network of leading human rights organisations in Kenya.

This 157 translates to an average of over 13 people killed every month. In 2020 again, according to HAKI Africa’s report “Pandemic Pandemonium: 2020 State of Human Rights Report at the Coast of Kenya”, torture cases went up by 186 per cent compared to 2019.

In the same year, sexual and gender-based violence increased by an alarming 914 per cent compared to 2019. These are the clear and irrefutable statistics pointing to the rapidly degenerating state of human rights in the country.

The pandemic has been taken by many in official and domestic (homes) authority as an excuse to abuse the rights of others. Most of the perpetrators have hidden behind Covid-19 regulations to kill, torture and in communities, abuse the rights of spouses and children.

Extrajudicial killings, femicide, enforced disappearances, rape, defilement and assault have all been widely reported in the country.

While all this is happening, the authorities are not doing enough to stop the abuses. If anything, they are hiding behind the pandemic and overlooking the violations, thus encouraging impunity. Citizens, particularly women and children, are left to bear the brunt not only of the pandemic but also of gross human rights violations.

The Bill of Rights confers rights to citizens. These rights have not been suspended by the Covid-19 safety measures and/or the new normal. The very essence of the measures is to save lives and guarantee Kenyans their basic right to health, which is provided for in Article 43 of the Constitution.

It is ironic that these measures are now directly inflicting pain and suffering to the population, including sexual and gender-based violations. As a result of the measures, the state as well as other actors are leaving citizens vulnerable to violations. If left unattended, this increase in human rights abuses will lead to communal disharmony and a serious security situation, including protests and riots.

Considering the country is approaching elections, this precarious situation will have far reaching consequences. Further, while measures such as curfew are necessary to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections, the same cannot achieve its intended purpose if citizens will still be rushing to hospitals for treatment due to assault from security officers and other violators.

It is, therefore, necessary that steps be taken to safeguard human rights, including gender rights, as the country slowly emerges from the pandemic. This is necessary not only to save the population from further violations and abuses but also to explicitly increase the effectiveness and efficacy of Covid-19 responses.

Article 19 (1) provides that “the Bill of Rights is an integral part of Kenya’s democratic state and is the framework for social, economic and cultural policies”.

To mitigate the situation, every individual citizen must actively participate in justice and rights promotion as a means to enhance their livelihoods and freely participate in democratic processes. This is in furtherance of Article 19 (2) that provides that “the purpose of recognising and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is to preserve the dignity of individuals and communities and to promote social justice and the realisation of the potential of all human beings”. By doing so, we will bring to life the words of our national anthem “haki iwe ngao na mlinzi”.

To restore human dignity from the ashes of the pandemic, there is need for concerted efforts from different actors, including government and civil society, to enhance respect for human rights and rule of law in the country.

These efforts must be premised on the Bill of Rights, which seeks to uphold human dignity and position human rights as the fundamental principle of citizens’ interactions in the country.

Considering the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, Kenyans of all walks of life must work together to support the advancement of fundamental freedoms and anchor socio economic affairs of individuals and communities within the human rights framework.