The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa


Kenya, with a population of 25 million, achieved its political independence from Britain in 1960. Soon after independence, the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) Party made it a legal offence for any other party to exist in the country. Multi-party democracy was reintroduced in December 1991 and an election conducted on December 29, 1992. The election, won by incumbent president Daniel Arap Moi, was criticised as unfair. Although multi-party democracy now exists, the government has yet to fully adjust to the freedoms that this should provide.

Ethnic clashes, which first broke out in 1991, have emerged as one of the most serious human rights issues in Kenya. Kenya is composed of approximately forty different ethnic groups made up mainly of the Kikuyu (21 percent), the Luhya (14 percent) and Luo (13 percent). Other smaller ethnic groups include Kamba, Kalenjin (Moi's tribe), Kisii, Meru, Maasai, Turkana and Teso, who, together with immigrant settlers such as Indians, Arabs and Europeans, constitute the rest of the population.

Most of the ethnic clashes have taken place in the Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western provinces and result from long-standing land disputes among the different tribes living in the region. There is a fear that these ethnic clashes are politically motivated and supported by government and KANU officials.

Cases of torture, poor prison and police cell conditions, police brutality, unlawful arrests and detention, rape, and abuse of women are rampant. Although freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, and independent newspapers and electronic media operate, the government has often arrested and detained journalists or seized news publications. The government has also been accused of using the courts to deny freedom to political opponents, charging them in court with unbailable offences, even if the evidence adduced lacks credibility.

The economic and social conditions in Kenya are worsening. Inflation and unemployment are on the rise, and many people are having increasing difficulty living under the harsh economic conditions imposed by a structural adjustment programme intended to revive the economy.


The government of Daniel Arap Moi is still unsure how much freedom to permit even under a multi-party democracy in Kenya. This has created a serious dilemma for Kenyan human rights groups, who react by exercising caution in their activities. They avoid the more controversial areas of human rights monitoring and politically contentious public interest litigation. Indeed, only the newly-formed Kenya Human Rights Commission lays any claim to human rights monitoring and is proposing to institute legal challenges of government human rights violations.

Some of the groups, however, are experienced in areas of raising awareness, public education, empowerment as well as legal services and advice. Kituo Cha Sheria is one of the best examples of a group versed in these activities and is in a good position to provide training to other groups in the sub-region.


Needs of human rights organisations in the country include:

i. Office equipment, such as computers, typewriters, photocopiers, fax machines, books and legal materials, etc.

ii. Staff needs: Most of the staff working in Kenyan human rights groups have had little or no training in human rights. Training staff will be an important contribution towards developing the focus and sophistication of the groups. Staff training is needed in the areas of report writing, advocacy skills, use of international standards, charters and procedures, documentation, computer use, lobbing strategies, internal management and administrative skills, and fundraising skills.

International Commission of Jurists-Kenya


The International Commission of Jurists-Kenya Section (ICJ-Kenya) is affiliated to its main body, the Geneva-based ICJ. ICJ-Kenya has been registered since 1974 under the Societies Act. ICJ-Kenya's objectives include the promotion of human rights, rule of law and democracy in Kenya.


ICJ-Kenya is made up of approximately 160 lawyer members and has a governing Board headed by a Chairman. There are five staff, and the Secretariat is headed by the Executive Director, Christopher Mulei.


ICJ-Kenya's activities focus on public advocacy and articulation of human rights and democratic issues. The group produces publications on human rights issues. Publications include the books Law and the Administration of Justice in Kenya and Law and Society. A quarterly, The Kenya Jurist, contains analyses as well as human rights news, events and opinions. The group has organised workshops, conferences and paralegal training sessions. ICJ-Kenya played a prominent role in monitoring Kenya's recent elections. The organisation plans to begin a public interest litigation programme soon.

International Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya


The International Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya Section [FIDA(K)] was established in Kenya in 1985 to provide legal aid services for women, to monitor human rights abuses against women and to analyze the status of women in law and development.


A membership organisation of about fifty women lawyers, FIDA(K) is governed by a policy-making council of nine, headed by Grace Githu, and a staff of three, headed by the Executive Director, Jean Kamau.


FIDA(K)'s main activities are the provision of legal assistance to women. Cases handled have dealt with issues such as freedom of expression, violence against women, forced marriages, genital mutilation and impediments to inheritance. FIDA(K) also intervenes administratively to secure the rights of women.

Kenya Anti-Rape Organization


The Kenya Anti-Rape Organization was registered under the NGO (Co-ordination) Act in 1992 to create public awareness about violence against women, particularly violence relating to rape and sexual harassment.


The organisation has a twelve-member Board that makes policy decisions. The Chair of the Board is Professor Yusuf Eraj. The daily affairs of the organisation are run by the Executive Director, Mrs. Anyanzwa, who is presently its only staff person. The organisation currently operates from the residence of its Executive Director.


In May 1993, the Executive Director of the Anti-Rape Organization led a protest in front of the High Court in Nairobi over the sexual assault and killing of six school girls. Between November 25 and December 10, 1993, the organisation sponsored a seminar where experts presented papers and opinions on the psychological effects of rape on the victim. Social workers discussed the nature of cases they handled. The Kenyan Minister of Culture gave the opening address at the seminar.

The organisation also provides counselling and rehabilitation for rape victims. Plans are being made to publish a report on abuse of women in Kenya.

Kenya Human Rights Commission


The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) was established in 1992 with a focus on human rights protection and monitoring. The organisation is still seeking registration under the NGO Registration Act. Structure

The organisation has a seven-member Board headed by Dr. Makau Wa Mutua, who is based in the United States of America. The Vice-Chairman of the Board is Dr. Willy Mutunga, President of the Law Society of Kenya. Maina Kiai is the Executive Director of the organisation and runs the day-to-day activities of the group, supported by an administrative staff.


KHRC has issued the following four reports:

- Academic Freedom in the Universities

- Violence during the 1993 Kenyan Presidential Election

- Show Torture--detailing the denial of health care to political detainees

- Amos Wako--The Fallen Angel

The group plans a series of programs on the promotion of rights awareness.

Kituo Cha Sheria
(Legal Advice Centre)


Kituo Cha Sheria, Swahili for Legal Advice Centre, was established in 1973 to provide legal services to the poor and heighten awareness of the law through publication of legal education materials and organising meetings and workshops. Kituo also works towards enhancing the democratic process and rule of law.


Kituo is officially registered and is a membership organisation with about 400 members. It is governed by a Board of Directors who make the policy decisions that are implemented by the staff. There are eighteen staff members, including an Executive Director, four lawyers, one administrator, two community organisers and three secretaries.


Legal services provided by Kituo include representation of the poor in the courts and provision of legal advice on the following areas of law: family law, land disputes, employment and labour disputes, landlord and tenant issues, criminal offences, accident claims, rape cases, women's rights issues, and others.

Kituo organises paralegal training programmes in rural areas in order to provide access to and knowledge of the law in those communities. Kituo printed a Civil Rights Card in both English and Kiswahili outlining the powers of the police and educating the people on their rights. Kituo has also encouraged the establishment of human rights clubs in schools to promote student awareness.

Law Society of Kenya


The Law Society of Kenya was established by an Act of Parliament in 1949. All Kenyan lawyers called to the Bar automatically become members of the Society. The Society is primarily established to protect lawyers' welfare as well as to monitor the state of the law in Kenya and its effect on the practice of law. In recent times, the organisation has become concerned with human rights issues, setting up two committees in this regard--the Human Rights Committee and the Legal Aid Committee.


The policy-making organ of the Society is its Executive Committee, which is elected annually and is headed by the Chairman. The day-to-day running of the Society is handled by the Secretary, a lawyer, who is assisted by three administrative staff.


The Human Rights Committee of the Society is exploring the idea of writing a new constitution for Kenya. It is cooperating with other human rights groups in this regard. The Society does not provide legal services or representation; however, its Legal Aid Committee refers deserving cases to other human rights groups providing such services.

Legal Education and Aid Programme


Legal Education and Aid Programme (LEAP) was established in July 1990 as a unit of the Kenya Adult Education Association of the Church of Kenya. The organisation is now an independent body, working towards providing legal education and assistance to the less privileged in the society.


LEAP is governed by an eight-member policy-making Board and a management team headed by the Director, Chiuri Ngugi, and Legal Officer, Violet Maribi. There are presently five administrative staff. LEAP is applying for registration under the NGO Act.


LEAP provides legal advice to the needy and organises legal education and training programmes in order to create awareness of the law among the people. The organisation plans to begin filing cases in the courts and embarking on public interest litigation.

Peace Foundation (Africa)


The Peace Foundation (Africa) was founded by Reverend Dr. Benjamin Mwangi in 1990 as an ecumenical studies program with a focus on empowering the church and civil society. The Foundation started with courses on the environment, church education and social transformation. In 1991, the focus shifted to economic and justice issues and, in 1992, to human rights education.


The Foundation has a Governing Council of thirteen, comprised of clergy, lawyers and other professionals who make policy. A full-time General Secretary heads the staff, assisted by a programme officer, an administrative officer, an accountant and a clerk.


The Foundation began its programme on human rights education in 1992 and organised a training programme in January 1993. Since then four programmes or courses have been conducted, with approximately 100 persons participating. Each course lasts about eight weeks and is conducted at the premises of the Peace Foundation which is located on large grounds on the outskirts of Nairobi. Four workshops on human rights have also been conducted in Mombasa and Nakuru.

The programmes of the Foundation are meant to be regional. The courses are based on biblical teachings and religious values, and not necessarily international human rights standards.

The Foundation monitored the 1992 Kenyan elections and issued a report. The Foundation plans the publication of a regular Peace Monitor, to track the state of human rights in Kenya.

Public Law Institute


The Public Law Institute (PLI) was created by the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and the Law Society of Kenya (LSK). The Institute was registered as a legal entity in 1981, and also under the NGO (Co-ordination) Act of 1990, to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law in Kenya. Its scope includes consumer and environmental protection as well as legal representation and services to the poor and disadvantaged in Kenya.


The Joint Policy Council, composed of the Board of Trustees and an Executive Committee, is the Institute's policy-making organ. The LSK and NCCK jointly appoint the Council. At the management level is the Executive Director who, together with the staff, run the daily affairs of the Institute. The Institute has a total of twenty-three staff members, of which twelve are professional and eleven administrative. The Institute has recently acquired an office into which it intends to move soon.


The Institute's legal representation in human rights cases is mostly focused on public interest issues. In 1988 PLI represented the family of Peter Karatija, a political prisoner arrested and tortured to death in police custody. PLI's intervention led to a court order for the prosecution of the police officials accused.

PLI also handles more routine legal matters. It takes on consumer rights issues and in 1988, together with the Kenya Consumer Organisation (KCO), successfully sued Kenya Power Lighting Company for a reversal and refund of power supply tariff increases. On the environmental front an unsuccessful legal challenge of a planned construction of a skyscraper in Uhuru Park, a public recreational centre in the city of Nairobi, exerted pressure on the government and the backers of the project that led to its abandonment.

PLI has also embarked on legal education of the public through publications, workshops, seminars, and paralegal training programmes. PLI's legal aid centre operates with full-time lawyers as well as volunteers who interview applicants seeking legal assistance in order to determine eligibility.

- Clement Nwankwo

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