ESCR-Net welcomes decision by Kenyan High Court upholding freedom of association for the KHRC and other human rights NGOs
On April 29, the Kenyan High Court delivered a judgment protecting the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) from deregistration and an asset freeze by the Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination Board (NGO board).
The judgment followed a petition presented by the KHRC which challenged the decision of the NGO board that threatened the organization with cancellation of its registration certificate and freezing its assets. The petition argued that the NGO board had failed to grant the KHRC a hearing before reaching a decision regarding the cancellation of its registration, in violation of the country’s constitution. Judge Louis Onguto, in his decision in support of the KHRC, further found that failure by the NGO board to provide written reasons behind moves to cancel the organization’s registration further compounded the “impropriety and procedural deficiencies” which have affected the deregistration process against the organization.
These moves by the NGO Board followed a press statement, issued on October 29, 2015, in which it reported the conclusion of an audit it had commissioned on over 10,000 NGOs in Kenya, including the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which allegedly found that 957 NGOs had failed to account for funds that they had received. The NGO board had, immediately following the conclusion of the audit, also reportedly forwarded the list of these NGOs to the Kenyan authorities to initiate the process of de-registration.
In response to the press statement, The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of ESCR-Net members the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), issued an urgent appeal (KEN 002 / 1115 / OBS 095) on November 13, 2015. The appeal called upon the Government of Kenya to, among others: guarantee circumstances the physical and psychological security and integrity of the members of the KHRC, as well as of all human rights defenders in Kenya; to put an end to harassment – including administrative harassment – against KHRC and other human rights organizations in Kenya and to allow them to carry out their work without hindrances and comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Following receipt of this appeal, ESCR-Net member Dejusticia launched a multilingual petition to facilitate the collection of signatures to reinforce the Urgent Appeal from the Observatory.
This case garnered the attention of several ESCR-Net members and the positive resolution of the court case was applauded by many.
“The High Court Judgment was a vindication of the innocence of the Commission and a confirmation of the arbitrariness on which the process commenced by the NGO board was based,” proclaimed George Kegoro, Executive Director of the KHRC, in a public statement, upon learning of the results of the ruling. Kegoro further expressed hope that the Government of Kenya will ensure that an enabling environment exists for independent voices and organizations of a free and vibrant civil society in Kenya.