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“Closing Space for Civil Society and Media in East Africa: Forging a Collaborative Response”

23 February 2018 (Nairobi, Kenya)

We, more than 60 civil society organisation and media representatives from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda working on human rights, democratic development, transparency, digital media, women and youth empowerment, legal aid, litigation and other issues of public interest are gathered in Nairobi to express our firm resolve to stand together in solidarity as civil society and media.

We will remain vigilant against threats to civic space. We commit to collaborate and provide support to each other through individual and joint efforts at the national and regional levels to combat shrinking space.

We note with concern a trend of closing civic space in the three East African countries characterized by increasing impunity. This has been evidenced by repressive tactics perpetrated by state and non-state actors, including among others:

  • Intimidation of and reprisals against journalists and activists through smear campaigns, arrests, detention and disappearances;
  • Enactment of restrictive laws and policies;
  • Disregard for the rule of law such as the continued failure in Kenya to operationalize the PBO Act despite several court orders;
  • Constraining financing of civil society organisations and media;
  • Curtailment of civil society’s and media’s freedom of movement and ability to freely operate especially in electoral contexts;
  • Restrictions on access to information through banning of newspapers and shutting down of media outlets and civil society organisations as has happened in Tanzania;
  • Surveillance of activists and journalists in physical and digital spaces;
  • Criminalization of dissent;
  • Use of excessive force to disperse peaceful protests and demonstrations;
  • intimidation of the judiciary and other governance and oversight institutions that should be independent; and
  • Harassment of civil society organisations by raids, break-ins, confiscation of documents and equipment as has been experienced in Uganda.

We are cognizant that shrinking civic space is not unique to the region but is contextualised by the decline in democratic ideals globally. Governments seem to adopt repressive tactics from each other and use similar justifications to shrink civic space including national security prerogatives and promotion of accountability within the media and civil society sectors.

Further, as civic space advocates, we note that a repressed civic environment adversely affects not only civil society organisations, the media and ultimately other sectors, but also the ordinary citizen, and leads to cultural, economic, political and social decline of a society.

As a coalition, we have identified areas in which joint interventions are necessary and have developed regional strategies and interventions to maintain and claim civic space. We resolve:

  • To take joint actions to build mutual understanding and ongoing dialogue between media and civil society;
  • To engage in regional advocacy;
  • To strengthen protective mechanisms, including litigation and legal aid;
  • To develop innovative funding and revenue streams;
  • To increase the use and protection of digital space;
  • To enhance civil society and media accountability internally and within the political context;
  • To work towards redefining narratives and public perceptions of the sector; and
  • To mobilize academia in order to leverage knowledge and research outputs.

At the national level, we identified several initiatives to enhance civil society organisations and media cooperation including establishing ongoing dialogue platforms, developing joint capacity building initiatives, building trust, addressing mutual security concerns online and offline, and mitigating risks.

We will engage with other actors including academia, professional associations, young people, and state institutions, to cultivate a broader understanding and appreciation of the role of civil society and media in a democratic society.

We pledge to continue collaborating towards ensuring a safe and enabling space for civil society and media in East Africa.


Download the statement here:

[The civil society and media leaders were convened for a two- day strategic workshop hosted by the Civil Society Reference Group, a Kenyan coalition whose role is to protect and enhance an independent and effective civil society voice and agency for public benefit, and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), a US-based organisation that has provided technical expertise on laws that govern civil society in over 100 countries worldwide and more than 20 in Africa.]

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Communique: Annual Jurists Conference


  1. The Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya) in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), ICJ Africa, International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice (KPTJ) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) held its 19th Annual Jurists Conference (AJC) in Mombasa, Kenya from 21st -25th, November 2017.
  2. The Conference brought together participants from across the societal divide, including representatives of State agencies, civil society organisations and professionals within and without the Republic of Kenya. The main objective of the conference was to deliberate and contribute to the discourse on emerging rule of law, human rights and justice trends affecting the Continent.
  3. As such, the theme of the Conference “State of Human Rights in Africa: Bridging the Gap between Aspirations, Implementation and Enforcement” reflected the Jurists’ continuing efforts geared towards transforming the various fundamental human rights, freedoms and liberties contained in legal instruments into liveable realities for the African people. The theme was explored from different perspectives and this gave rise to a range of recommendations, which are expected to inform the action points going forward into the coming year.
  4. The areas covered included:
    •   An Institutional Approach to understanding the Human Rights Protection Frameworks

      in Africa;

    •   Level of Implementation and Enforcement of Human Rights in Africa;
    •   Judicial Enforcement of Human Rights Standards at the National Level;
    •   Promotion and protection of Human Rights through Regional Economic Communities


    •   The African Human Rights System and Atrocity/Transnational Crimes; and
    •   The African Human Rights System and Electoral Governance in Africa.
  5. On the basis of extensive and highly interactive deliberations guided by moderators and thematic experts for each panel, the participants adopted the following resolutions:

A. To African Heads of States

The Jurists note with great concern the rampant and systemic non-compliance with state reporting obligations and compliance with recommendations and decisions of the African Commission and the African Court. The jurists are also concerned that few African States have deposited Article 34(6) declarations allowing NGOs and individuals to present communications before the African Court and acknowledging the need to strengthen the follow up mechanisms of these bodies and the pivotal complementary role that the regional mechanism plays in securing human rights in Africa. It was further noted that the culture of non-conformity is a practice also reflected in the decisions of the sub-regional and national judicial and non-judicial mechanisms. In this regard:

  1. We call on State parties to domesticate and operationalize international and regional legal frameworks nationally by establishing national institutions and processes to provide specific channels of responsibility and facilitate internalization by changing conduct based on acceptance of international norms.
  1. We call on State parties that have not already done so, to deposit declarations under article 34(6) of the Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights, to allow individuals and NGOs with Observer Status to lodge communications before the Court should do the same.
  2. We call on State parties to comply with treaty obligations and resolutions and as such, fully implement measures necessary for realisation of the fundamental human rights, freedoms and liberties. This involves committing to adequate resources to the human rights institutions, respecting their independence, strengthening their mandate, enhancing effective coordination and cooperation among regional and municipal bodies to enable implementation and enforcement of human rights decisions and exploring strategies to overcome negative cultural practices and taboos that hinder the realization of human rights, freedoms and liberties.
  3. We call on African governments to establish measures aimed at alleviating poverty in order to realise the social economic rights of their citizens.

B. To the African Union/African Commission

i. We call upon the African Union/African Commission to streamline state reporting procedures given the heavy burden on States to write reports on compliance with African Charter, Maputo Protocol and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child every two/three years.

ii. We call on the African Union to explore avenues for collaboration with different institutions to facilitate complimentary enforcement of human rights and promote institutional synergy among various bodies within the continent. This can be achieved by upholding court orders, respecting judicial independence, developing guidelines to make State reporting effective and according political support to the national and regional courts

C. Regional and National Courts

We recognize the fundamental importance of judicial independence in safeguarding rights and sustaining democracy and rule of law in the continent. As such we are alarmed at the persistent executive interference/or attempted undermining of such independence in some judiciaries.

We therefore call on the regional and national courts to:

  •   Furnish effective and creative remedies that are meaningful and enforceable in order to

    enhance the promotion of human rights;

  •   Put in place measures to fast track case management;
  •   Harmonize emerging jurisprudence around human rights in the continent;
  •   Hold public officers personally liable for disobedience of court orders;
  •   Invoke universal jurisdiction in cases where such is appropriate; and
  •   Establish into partnerships with other institutions to assist in the implementation and

    enforcement of human rights.

D. As Jurists and Civil Society

As jurists and Civil Society Organisations, we are deeply concerned about the growing trends of police brutality, torture and extrajudicial killing and regime policing. State machinery (police) has increasingly been used to intimidate and harass citizens and to silencing dissident voices, resulting into grave human rights violations. We also note the centrality of free and fair elections in securing good governance of the African people, we are concerned about the electoral violence and malpractices across the region. In this regard:

  1.  We shall join efforts with Civil Society Organisations across the region to monitor, document and audit level of compliance and implementation of decisions/recommendations of Treaty Body Mechanisms.
  1. We shall strengthen our engagement with Parliamentary committees on state compliance i.e. implementation of decision of African Court on Human and Peoples Rights, the African Commission, African Committee of Experts on Rights and Welfare of the Child as well as Concluding Observations and letters of appeal.
  2. TogetherwithCivilSocietyOrganisations,weshallcontinuetosensitizetheAfricanpeopleon the African Charter and other regional human rights instruments, the importance of respecting human rights and the need to hold the government accountable.
  3. We shall explore areas for public interest litigation in human rights and take up cases in the field of transnational crimes such as terrorism, money laundering, transfer pricing and other forms of illicit financial transfers.
  4. We shall strengthen our utilization of inquest/inquiries and private prosecutions as a means to seek accountability for extra-judicial executions, use of excessive force.
  5. We shall continue to explore and advocate for new areas in human rights such as the right to clean air, water et cetera in line with global agreements, and Sustainable Development Goals.
  6. We shall continue to impress upon governments to respect the independence of the Judiciary as well as other constitutional bodies as a measure of inculcating confidence between the citizens and government institutions.
  7. We shall lead a structured dialogues on electoral reforms in a manner that is open, truthful and gainful to African citizens. In Kenya, we shall revisit the Kriegler Report to help shape ongoing discussions on the root cause of the failure to conduct free, fair and credible elections among other election issues identified in the report. We shall also analyse the current judgments and emerging jurisprudence on election petitions, and use them as a platform for identifying emerging issues and making appropriate recommendations for future reference.
  8. We shall draw lessons from best practices and the experiences of other countries on how to deal with elections in terms of civic education, resolving conflicts and carrying out peaceful demonstrations.

E. To Africa’s Citizens

As jurists, we recognize the centrality of a vibrant citizenry and public participation in ensuring accountability and bolstering good governance across nations; we implore on the citizenry to:

  1. Continuously demand for transparent, accountable and responsible leadership by African


  2. Actively take part in decision-making processes to ensure effective public oversight, social inclusivity and respect for diversity.
  3. Champion equitable distribution of State resources and repudiate intolerance, discrimination and misuse of these resources.

Developed at the Serena Beach Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya on November 24, 2017

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