Kenya: Stop using anti-terrorism laws to target human rights defenders and guarantee due process


After respected Kenyan human rights organisations MUHURI and Haki Africa had their bank accounts frozen, ISHR calls upon the government to guarantee due process and ensure that anti-terror legislation is not used or abused to target human rights defenders.

(Geneva) - On 7 April, the Kenyan Inspector General designated two leading human rights organisations, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and Haki Africa, amongst 85 individuals and institutions, as ‘specified entities,’ equating them with ‘terrorist groups’ and freezing their bank accounts.

A joint statement by Human Rights Agenda (HURIA), The National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders-Kenya (NCHRD-K), the Eastern Horn of Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) and Civil Rights Defenders has condemned the ‘short-sighted’ act, arguing that it serves to intimidate not only these two ‘exemplary and principled’ organizations defending the rights of Kenyans, but ‘the whole civil society fraternity.’ The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of  Peaceful Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai, has also spoken out in emphatic terms, linking the listing to the fact that ‘these organisations have documented the excesses of security forces ostensibly combating terrorism, and highlighted the cases of innocent people killed, for being alleged terrorists.’ Human Rights Watch has also condemned the move, demonstrating that due process was not afforded the organisations, who were not given ‘proper time and opportunity to contest the designation, [nor] the right to be informed.’

The organisations were given 24 hours’ notice of their designation, which they only discovered through the media. The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2012 (POTA), under which the organisations are being processed, grants little right of appeal, places the burden of proof on the accused, and makes membership of a terror group punishable by up to 30 years’ imprisonment. According to Maina Kiai, ‘this is the perfect example of misusing broad and opaque laws to settle scores, and to perpetuate impunity.’

In response to violent extremism, and incidents such as the killing of 147 students from Garissa University by Al-Shabaab in Kenya on April 2, many State governments have passed broad anti-terrorism laws which unreasonably and disproportionately silence civil society. ISHR recently criticised a counter-terrorism resolution passed at the 28th Human Rights Council session, given that the resolution failed to tackle the fact that ‘States using and misusing overbroad and vague legislative provisions to restrict and criminalise the legitimate exercise of freedoms by human rights defenders.’ In passing the resolution the Human Rights Council had, said a coalition of NGOs, ‘[failed] to recognise the vital role of civil society in combating extremism’ and had failed to provide ‘adequate safeguards to ensure that national laws and measures do not violate human rights law or repress civil society’.

The terror listings add to a widening pool of threats facing civil society in Kenya. ISHR’s UPR briefing paper on Kenya last June noted the deliberate targeting of human rights defender assets - for example budget limits on foreign funding - as well as a range of restrictive laws, policies, acts of intimidation and reprisals. Kenya’s UPR will be adopted in June 2015, and ISHR calls on the Government of Kenya to accept all recommendations related to both human rights defenders and the reasonable, fair and proportionate use of anti-terror laws.

ISHR calls upon the government of Kenya to guarantee due process for all parties listed as terrorist groups under POTA, to end intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors in the country, and to acknowledge the vital role played by human rights defenders in the ongoing fight against terrorism.

For more information, contact the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders - Kenya or ISHR's Clement Voulé on