Kenya: Proposed reforms will seriously undermine human rights

Freedom of expression and human rights in Kenya will be seriously undermined if amendments to a bill regulating the work of non-governmental organisations are passed, Amnesty International warned today. 
 

Proposed amendments to the Public Benefits Organisations (PBO) Act include limits on the level of external funds an organisation can receive and give the regulatory authority broader powers over registering NGOs and granting them permits. 
 
They would also increase government control over NGOs. The amendments are expected to be tabled in Parliament in the coming weeks. 
 
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director, said:
 
“The level of control Kenyan authorities are trying to impose on NGOs is shameful. These organisations play a critical role in helping communities realise basic human rights through provision of services such as health and education.
 
“A cap on the external funding they can receive would have a devastating impact on their capacity to help those in most need. 
 
“Instead of continuing to limit space for debate and criticism, authorities in Kenya should engage in discussions with activists and society at large to find ways for human rights to become a reality for all.” 
 
The PBO Act is not the only legal regime under which civil society organisations can register in Kenya. However, opting out of registration is likely to bring its own administrative difficulties, and the amendments lack any provision for voluntary deregistration as a PBO.
 
Media and police reforms 
Kenya’s Parliament has also recently debated a Media Bill which would severely restrict freedom of expression and human rights. 
 
The Kenya Information and Communications Bill, passed on 31 October, proposes the establishment of a state-controlled tribunal to scrutinise the work of journalists and impose hefty fines for violations of the Code of Conduct. The bill awaits presidential assent, and there are indications that President Uhuru Kenyatta may oppose it in its current form.   
 
The National Police Service Act and National Police Service Commission Act Amendment Bills provide for greater political oversight of police force hiring and vetting processes. They also allow for wider police use of firearms. The bills were due for debate in Parliament this week. 
 
Sarah Jackson added: 
 
“The package of bills being brought before parliament is just a veiled attempt by the authorities to silence any kind of criticism of the worrying state of human rights in Kenya.” 
 

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