An Overview of NCHRD-K’s Report on the Effects of Evictions to Women Human Rights Defenders and Women Rights
Margaret Chesir was born in Embobut forest and for over 50 years has known no other home. She is a member of the indigenous Sengwer community, often evicted by the government in a bid to conserve the forest. An agonised Chesir was evicted in 2014, and since then, she has been in and out of the forest, struggling to get back to the hunter-gatherer life that defines her community.
“Life outside the forest is unbearable and we often return to the forest as soon as security agencies burn down our structures,” Chesir told the Star, holding back tears.Chesir and other women grew up in an environment where colobus monkeys chattered, jackals howled and crickets chirped. They are fond of natural fruits and vegetables found in Embobut and nearby forests.
“We don’t cut down trees because we live inside thick forests, and we rely on the forest for food and medicines,” she says.Other communities listed as indigenous include Boni (Bajuni), El Molo, Malakote, Ogiek, Sanya, Waata, Wagoshi and Yaaku.But as the world commemorated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, Chesir and company were wondering what their future holds.
LEFT BY HUSBANDS
Mary Komen, a Sengwer community women leader, says the community is now joining the list of internally displaced Kenyans after a series of evictions. The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya recently conducted a research titled “Race against eviction. The plight of Sengwer women and human rights defenders in Embobut forest”.
The NCHRD-K report, launched in Iten, shows a community that has lost its traditions and language during successive evictions. According to the report, Sengwer were forcibly evicted every year since 2007. The community has lived in Embobut forest since the 1890s, and they were given permits by the British colonial government to stay in three glades, including Kapkok, Kaptirbai and Koropken. Its members also occupy parts of West Pokot and Trans Nzoia and consist of 21 clans. The 2009 census put the Sengwer community population at 33,187.
The NCHRD-K further established that the evictions depressed the community, while frequent displacements and disruption of livelihoods have denied the community’s children the right to education. Early marriages and disintegration of Sengwer family units have also been threatened by the evictions. NCHRD-K executive director Kamau Ngugi said researchers spoke to women of the indigenous deep inside the forest.
“The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights had previously conducted a study on human rights violations. We found out that women’s views were not put into account, and that is why we decided to look into the situation of women inside the forest,” Ngugi said.
It was also discovered during the study that Sengwer women were abandoned by their husbands after forest dwellers received Sh400,000 each as payout to move out of the forest. “Men left their wives and married younger women from the neighbouring Marakwet community, and squandered the money meant for buying alternative land,” the interim report reads in part.
Article done by Stephen Rutto, Star Newspaper. Read the entire article here: https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2018/09/11/big-read-sengwer-women-weve-lost-our-dignity-rights-violated-in_c1807215
THEME: Enhancing The Role Of HRDs in Governance and Encouraging Constant Dialogue for Complementary and Effective Relationships
In Kenya, activism increasingly combines informal networks and formal organizations to some effect, and these activists have in general distanced themselves from the political opposition and views creating a non- cordial working relationship between HRDs and duty bearers.
The work of HRDs is well anchored in international law through the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights further recognizes the critical role of HRDs and calls for their protection by respective states. Chapter 4 of the Kenyan Constitution 2010 has the Bill of Rights which calls for protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, the same is not anchored in national legislation. There are however existence of provisions in substantive legislation that threaten the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed rights which HRDs fall victim to.
NCHRD-K has observed increased intolerance of human rights defenders’’ work. HRDs are faced with personal threats, physical attacks and killings because of highlighting issues of public concern and violations. They are further faced with legal challenges as their work is criminalized. In the past years, several HRDs have been charged under laws that criminalize the right to peaceful assembly like rioting after proclamation, incitement to cause violence, resisting arrest and unlawful assembly.
HRDs working on critical but sensitive issues like countering violence extreme have been physically targeted and faced with arbitrary arrest, detention and even torture. This cuts across the country where HRDs are arrested and charged for unlawful assembly, slapped with punitive bail and bond terms. Other HRDs like journalists and bloggers have faced libel suits and criminal charges that include undermining the authority of a public officer among others.
NCHRD-K has further documented legislative and administrative challenges that limit the civic space within which HRDs and CSOs are able to carry out their human rights work.
It is on this basis that NCHRD-K will facilitate dialogue between the HRDs, service providers, media and the duty bearers in various counties. This will include members of judiciary, county government officials and national police service to create awareness of the existence of HRDs in the county and their critical role in the promotion and protection of human rights and good governance, foster political will for HRDs in governance, and encourage constant dialogue for a complementary and effective relationship.
Realizing Freedom of Assembly and Association:lessons from 2017 elections
The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya (NCHRD-K) convened over 70 HRDs from various parts of Kenya for a
one and half days forum to discuss threats on Freedom of association through arbitrary directives by the government of Kenya. This has been observed to be a repeated trend anytime Kenyans go to the general elections. In view of this, NCHRD-K organised the forum that will work towards facilitating engagement with relevant stakeholders to who play a key role in securing the space for HRDs and CSOs. The forum will take place on 25 and 26 January 2018.
The objectives of the meeting were:
a) Providing a safe and open platform for experience sharing among HRDs and CSOs from
across Kenya, examining the vital role played by human rights defenders as agents of social
change and transformation
b) Highlighting the challenges faced by HRDs in Kenya and to make specific recommendations
to the Special Rapporteurs, the State and CSOs
c) Developing collective strategies of reclaiming the lost civic space so as to unify the
voices of CSOs and HRDs across Kenya.
d) To come up with a communiqué highlighting the specific challenges the participants want
addressed and recommendations to identified relevant government institutions and other
Civic space in Kenya continues to be under pressure with a range of actions employed against the work of Human Rights Defenders and Civil Society organizations in Kenya. Administrative action, legislative restrictions, negative rhetoric and limitation of human rights have undermined the Constitutional and international protections available to them hindering the realization of human rights and especially in the setting of an electoral period during the 2017 elections.
It is against this backdrop that the Working Group on Human Rights Defenders in Kenya, that comprise of CSOs and development partners in Kenya, concerned with the protection of human rights defenders hold the 2017 Human Rights Defenders Awards. The HRD awards endeavour to publicly recognise the work of HRDs in Kenya through a HRD award ceremony.
Download the 2017 awards booklet:http://nchrdk.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Human-Rights-Awards-booklet-2017.pdf
On 16 th March 2017 the Black Law Student Association from Harvard University had their annual Africa Summit. The purpose of Africa Summit is to learn about the culture and government in various African countries. They attempt to meet with members of the non-profit sector in order to learn more about some of the challenges the country faces and see how civil society is responding to them. They met with the NCHRD-K to discuss issues related to shrinking space, HRD and CSO challenges in an election year.
See the Visit in pictures here: