Kenya: Milestone steps in recognition of LGBT NGOs


ISHR welcomes the decisions of the High Court of Kenya to allow the registration of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights to confer observer status on the Coalition of African Lesbians.

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(Geneva) – The ground-breaking decision of the High Court of Kenya to allow for the registration of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) marks an important step towards protecting rights to freedom of association and expression for human rights groups working on sexual orientation and gender identity in Kenya and the African continent, the International Service for Human Rights said today.  

On 24 April 2015, the High Court of Kenya reversed the ruling of the NGO Coordination Board, a government body that oversees applications for NGO registration under the NGO Coordination Board Act. The NGO Coordination Board had rejected the NGLHRC’s application in 2013 because Kenya’s penal code ‘criminalises gay and lesbian liaisons’ and as such the organisation’s name was ‘unacceptable’.

ISHR released a report in November 2014 which identified Kenya’s NGO Coordination Board Act as a particularly restrictive practice in the regulation of the establishment, governance, activities and funding of NGOs. In particular, the report found that the Act imposed ‘significant, arbitrary or discriminatory obstacles to the formation and registration of associations’.

The High Court ruled that, as per article 36 of Kenya’s constitution, ‘conceptions of morality cannot serve as a justification to limit fundamental rights’ of freedom of association, which include the right to form, join or participate in the activities of an association of any kind.

‘The role that Kenyan human rights defenders have played in their principled and persistent advocacy to be considered equal before the law must be credited in this important decision,’ said Ms Pooja Patel from ISHR.

‘Such milestone developments are noteworthy for the impact they have on the African continent as a whole in terms of sensitising States towards the legitimate human rights work of groups working in the area of sexuality, sexual and reproductive rights and gender identity,’ she added.

Meanwhile, after continual delays and postponements since 2008, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights finally decided on 25 April 2015 to grant observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), a pan-African network based in South Africa.

The African Commission had adopted a resolution in 2014 focusing on the protection of persons against violence and any other types of human rights violations based on their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. CAL stated that the granting of observer status now means they have the space to do crucial follow-up work to this resolution, which called on States to ensure that human rights defenders working on LGBT rights operate in an enabling environment ‘free from stigma, reprisals or criminal prosecution’ as a result of their activities.

‘While spaces to engage on issues related to social justice and human rights continue to shrink on the continent and globally, the granting of observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians is a milestone in the African human rights system and indicates commitment from the Commission to the principles of the African Charter on Human Rights,’ stated CAL in an official press release.

At the same time, ISHR has expressed its concern to the African Commission of the general worrying trend of increasing restrictions to civil society space in many African countries, including through repressive legal frameworks which subject NGOs and human rights defenders to judicial harassment, inability to access funds and obstacles to registration.

‘Notwithstanding instances of positive developments, governments must ensure that they fully recognise the role of human rights organisations in strengthening and consolidating democracy and the rule of law in the region,’ stressed Ms Patel. ‘In particular, we are deeply concerned over the use of national security laws to criminalise the work of human rights defenders in the continent. As the African Commission has repeatedly advised, such laws need to be reviewed and revised to bring them in line with international human rights standards’.

Contact: Pooja Patel on


  • Africa
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • LGBT rights
  • NGOs
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
  • Kenya
  • South Africa