Kenyan Human Rights Defender Arrested in Wake of Kampala Attack

A police post in Kampala, Uganda(c) Amnesty International

As the world was watching every dribble, pass, and shot of the World Cup final match, a bomb exploded in Kampala, Uganda killing 76 people. Now, Uganda is making matters worse by arbitrarily arresting and detaining Al-Amin Kimanthi, the head of the Muslim Human Rights Forum (MHRF) in Kenya.  Kimanthi was arrested on September 15 as he flew to Uganda to observe the trial of six other Kenyans on trial for the bombing. He was charged with terrorism and murder six days later.

Uganda and Kenya both have not followed international standards nor human rights law in their handling of Kimanthi’s case.  Beginning with his arbitrary arrest and six day detention without being charged, Kimanthi’s charge sheet has no evidence linking him to the bomb attack. Furthermore, Kenya has ignored his right to habeas corpus in his incognito transfer to Uganda.  Both Kenya and Uganda have failed to respect extradition procedures which require reciprocal warrants of arrests in both countries and judicial hearings.

It seems as though Kimanthi was arbitrarily arrested for carrying out his legitimate human rights work – providing legal support to the suspects charged in connection with the bomb attack.

Amnesty is calling on the Ugandan government to release Kimanthi or specify the charges against him. The perpetrators of the July, 2010 bombing in Kampala must be brought to justice, but this must not come at the expense of international human rights law and standards.

Millennium Development Goals Are Failing World's Poorest People

World leaders are meeting next week at a United Nations Summit in New York to review progress made to alleviate poverty around the world since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set a little over a decade ago.  Unfortunately, the MDGs are failing the world’s poorest people because governments are ignoring and abusing human rights.

More than a billion people living in slums are not even included in MDG efforts because the MDG target on slums only commits to improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, will be leading Amnesty’s delegation to the summit.  He said:

“Unless world leaders agree to take urgent steps to uphold the human rights of people living in poverty, the poorest and most disadvantaged people around the world will continue to be left out of the MDGs.

“But language alone is not enough, people must be able to hold governments accountable when they fail to uphold human rights. They should be able to challenge corruption or neglect through courts and regulatory bodies to ensure governments actually fulfil their obligations.”

An estimated 70 per cent of those living in poverty are women. Yet MDG efforts in many countries fail to address the wide-spread discrimination women face in accessing food, water, sanitation and housing, while discriminatory policies, laws and practices that underpin gender-based violence and undermine progress on all the MDGs, have been left to fester.

Kenya is one country whose policies have ignored the needs of women living in slums © Amnesty International

Many states are carrying out mass forced evictions that drive slum dwellers even deeper into poverty and violate their right to housing.

For example, in just one city in Nigeria over 200,000 people are currently facing eviction because the authorities plan to demolish more than 40 informal settlements in Port Harcourt’s waterfront area. Thousands will lose their livelihoods as well as their homes if the demolitions go ahead.

Kenya is an example of another country whose policies have ignored the needs of women living in slums while trying to meet its MDG targets. Women living in slums risk being attacked when trying to use communal toilets, particularly after dark. The lack of effective policing to prevent, investigate and punish gender-based violence or provide an effective remedy to women and girls, means violence against women goes largely unpunished.

Another case is Nicaragua, which despite committing to the MDG target on improving maternal health, has outlawed abortion in all circumstances. The overwhelming majority of pregnancies as a result of rape or incest are amongst girls aged between 10 and 14, whose health and life are put at risk by unsafe abortions or by having to give birth at an early age.


Kenyans Face a New Vote Tomorrow

By Mariah Ortiz, Kenya Human Rights Commission in Nairobi

Kenyans are eagerly preparing to vote tomorrow on a proposed new constitution, less than three years since the presidential election that led to a disputed result and widespread violence that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 500,000.

Kenya's most recent elections in December 2007 led to a wave of violence.

Many Kenyans have read the entire proposed constitution back to back, and a number of non-governmental organizations are distributing “summary versions” of the constitution so that the public can easily inform themselves. Media coverage has been constant. The debate is heated, with both sides rallying, debating, and distributing campaign materials.

Some feel that rather than encouraging the democratic process and allowing Kenyans to vote and to make up their own minds, many organizations are strongly pushing either YES or NO. At the moment, most polls show that the YES campaign is ahead and likely to win with at least 65% of the vote. But this could change in a moment.

Some key issues have emerged from the debate: the devolution of power from the central government to the regions, reduced presidential power, land rights, the role of Muslim courts and abortion. Muslim courts and abortion have come to the forefront in the media because they are very political, polarized and emotional issues. Abortion is currently illegal and is a taboo subject. This emphasis on these divisive issues has drawn attention away from important constitutional provisions such as a proposed decrease in the share of the national budget for development from 30% to 10%.

It is fascinating to be here in Nairobi right before the referendum. Kenyans are eagerly preparing to have their say — many will travel great distances to their local polling station and wait starting at 6:00 AM in very long lines to cast their vote.

People are hopeful that this election will be peaceful and that this vote will be different from the disputed 2007 presidential election. Still, as Amnesty International reported, there is concern that some politicians have used hate speech to stoke the flames of ethnic hatred and that this rhetoric could lead to violence.

It’s important that the Kenyan government be prepared to protect its citizens from any potential human rights violations during and after the vote. I will be watching carefully, and will report again later this week about the referendum and its outcome.

Women in Nairobi: Too Scared to Pee

A woman steps across the polluted water course that runs through Soweto village in Kibera, Kenya, 3 March 2009. Copyright Amnesty International

You are a woman living alone in a one-room tin shack that you rent in Africa’s second largest slum. Because you live near the equator, it is completely dark by 7:00 every evening. You don’t have electricity, and there are no street lights. In fact, there are no “streets” – just a maze of well-worn dirt paths. The only light outside comes from paraffin lanterns hanging from kiosks.

You need to go to the bathroom, but your landlord has not provided any toilet facilities for you or your neighbors. The nearest pit latrine, which is shared by more than 100 people, is almost half a mile away, and it takes 10 minutes to walk there. The last time you left your house to walk to the latrine at night, a gang of young men grabbed you and threatened to rape you, saying that no nice girl would be out on her own at that hour. You were lucky to escape when nearby residents heard your screams and came to see what was wrong.

There are no police posts in this slum; the closest police station is several miles away in a middle-class neighborhood. You know if those gang members come back for you, there is nowhere to turn for help. So you decide to use a “flying toilet” – a plastic bag that you use, then throw out into the open sewer that runs alongside the alley outside your house.

This is the choice that hundreds of thousands of Kenyan women face every day in Nairobi’s slums.


Standing Up for LGBT Rights in Malawi

Back in early January, we called for the unconditional release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, two men who were arrested after having a traditional engagement ceremony in Malawi. They were charged with “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency” and were reportedly beaten while in custody. In Malawi, homosexual acts can carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. And just yesterday, the BBC reported that there will be a full trial for the two men beginning in April. The men deny the charges and will soon have to begin calling defense witnesses.

This case serves as a sad reminder of the state of LGBT rights in much of Africa. In Uganda, the debate rages on over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that was introduced in December 2009. In Kenya, anti-gay rallies have been held and attacks have been carried out against openly gay citizens. And in Malawi, religious leaders are responding to the trial by reaffirming their stance against homosexuality. In this climate of hate, those crying out for acceptance cannot be heard.

The trial of these men, purely on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation, is a gross violation of their rights to freedom of conscience, expression and privacy – Véronique Aubert, Amnesty International’s Deputy Africa Director

Help us stand up and speak out against the trial of Steven and Tiwonge, and remind the Malawian government that criminalization of homosexuality and sexual identity is banned under many of the treaties Malawi has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Rebecca Friedrichs contributed to this blog post.

Real men are not afraid of women's empowerment!

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put it “Violence against women and girls will not be eradicated until all of us – men and boys- refuse to tolerate it”. Globally, men are taking a stand. Kenya’s Men for Gender Equality Now (MENGEN), a member of the Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women global coalition, stands out as an inspiring organization.  Since 2001, MENGEN has worked to involve men in the struggle against gender-based violence and gender-inequality. To date, the organization has reached thousands of men and women in 21 constituencies across Kenya, championing equality and rejecting violence against women.

During the 2009 global 16 Days of activism against gender violence campaign, MENGEN spearheaded the Men’s Traveling Conference, recruiting male role models across Kenya to oppose violence and to start MENGEN branches in their communities. MENGEN mobilized men and women to sign commitment forms pledging their allegiance to fight gender-based violence; despite meeting heavy resistance in some towns, several police offices and provincial administrators pledged their support.

Activists march against gender violence in Kigali, Rwanda.

Activists march against gender violence in Kigali, Rwanda.

On November 25th, the first day of the 16 Days campaign, Malawi Minister for Gender, Children and Community Development, Hon. Patricia Kaliati, launched the official inauguration of MENGEN in Malawi with a powerful statement, “Real Men are not afraid of women’s empowerment.”

Amnesty International USA could not agree more!


Nairobi River Clean-up Could Leave More than 100,000 Kenyans Homeless

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

A boy stands in a polluted water course that runs through Soweto East, one of the many villages in Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya. March 2009 © 2009

A boy stands in a polluted water course that runs through Soweto East, one of the many villages in Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya. March 2009 © AI

Nairobi is the world headquarters for both the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Program (UN Habitat), which are responsible for promoting green development, sustainable cities and adequate shelter for all. Yet these agencies’ presence hasn’t prevented the widespread pollution of the Nairobi River Basin or the growth of Kibera into the 2nd largest slum in Africa. More than one million people live in Kibera, crowded onto just 550 acres of land, most living in tin shacks without electricity or access to basic services like toilets and clean water.

The Kenyan government, UN Habitat and UNEP have developed ambitious plans to clean up the polluted Nairobi River Basin and restore its damaged ecosystem in order to improve the quality of life for city residents.  There’s only one problem: about 127,000 people have settled there. Kibera residents live in uncertainty – they hear rumors that they may be forced out of their homes near the river any day, but they don’t know when it will happen.

Benson has lived near the banks of the Nairobi River in Kibera for 15 years. He runs a small kiosk and his 7 kids attend a neighborhood school.  If the government evicts him, he will lose not only his home and all his possessions, but also his business and his children will no longer have access to education.

Benson’s fears are not unwarranted.  In recent years, more than 20,000 Nairobi residents have been forcibly evicted from their homes, often with little advance notice.  Their homes were demolished and they were left homeless, without compensation or relocation to other neighborhoods.  In July 2009, the Kenyan government evicted more than 3,000 people living Githogoro Village and destroyed their homes. Left without shelter or assistance, many were forced to sleep out in the open by the ruins.

Why doesn’t the Kenyan government come to Kibera to explain the Nairobi River Basin project to its residents, inform them of the timeline for relocation, and help them move to alternative homes in other, less environmentally sensitive areas of the city?  Isn’t that better than forcing them out and leaving them homeless without livelihoods?

Tell President Kibaki that the people of Kibera deserve dignity. The government should adopt eviction guidelines that respect human rights laws, hold genuine consultations with affected communities, identify alternatives to evictions and develop a comprehensive relocation and compensation plan.

By Ann Corbett, AIUSA Kenya Country Specialist

Africa's Human Rights Scandal

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

This is how a man in Chad’s capital N’Djamena described to us the destruction of his home in February 2008:

I bought this place more than 38 years ago. On 29 February, some policemen and the people from the mayor’s office came and covered the walls in paint. They told us that we had six days to leave. When we asked them why, they said we did not have the right to ask questions because it was a state of emergency. We could not get together and talk about it among ourselves, it was forbidden. The residents took their personal belongings and left. Some of them who have money will not have any difficulty in renting another house, those without money will go to their village or to Cameroon.

Together with him, 52 other people who lived in his compound lost their home. In the whole city, tens of thousands have been made homeless by their own government.

Chadian authorities are not alone in this blatant abuse of human rights and international law. Across Africa – in what can only be described as a human rights scandal – hundreds of thousands of people each year are forcibly evicted. In many cases, this means being left homeless, losing one’s possessions without compensation and being denied access to sources of clean water, food, sanitation, livelihood or education.

Today is World Habitat Day, and many organizations like UN Habitat or Habitat for Humanity are raising awareness on issues of adequate housing and shelter. This year, Amnesty International is joining them by launching today its one year campaign to end forced evictions in Africa. We are specifically calling on the governments of Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to end the practice of forced evictions and to ensure compensation for victims. While I don’t think that hard numbers can capture the amount of human suffering that is created by forced evictions, here is a brief overview of the facts:

  • Angola: More than 10,000 families in Angola’s capital, Luanda, have been made homeless after being forcibly evicted from their homes since July 2001.
  • Chad: During the past two years, tens of thousands in Chad’s capital N’Djamena have been left homeless after being evicted by force and having had their homes demolished by the government.
  • Equatorial Guinea: About 1,000 families have been forcibly evicted from their homes to make room for roads, up-market housing and hotels and shopping centers since 2003.
  • Kenya: More than half of the capital city Nairobi’s population – two million people – live in informal settlements or slums where they have no security of tenure, putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness. 
  • Nigeria: More than two million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in different parts of Nigeria since 2000.
  • Zimbabwe: From May to July 2005, government security forces launched Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order), a program of housing and informal business demolition that displaced approximately 700,000 people.

The phenomenon of forced evictions in Africa is a massive scandal that should be stopped immediately. As long as governments can force people from their homes without being held accountable, thousands of people remain at risk of forced evictions and of being stripped of their dignity.

PS: To see shocking satellite images of housing demolitions in Chad and Zimbabwe, check out our new Science for Human Rights website.

Amnesty On-the-Ground in Kenya

This week, Amnesty International kicked off a high level research mission to Kenya to launch our first Demand Dignity campaign action.  Irene Khan, Amnesty’s Secretary General, visited to two informal settlements in Nairobi – where almost two million people live in slums – asking residents to tell the Kenyan government what dignity mean to them via a free SMS service.   The responses have been inspiring, take a look at a few:

For me, living with dignity means “setting principles to your ways and standard of living and be true to them.”

“Dignity is having three meals a day. Clean water. shelter. Good roads. justice for all but not for the few corrupt.”

“Dignity refers to carrying humanity with respect and honour.”

Community members from Korogocho and Kibera slums told the Amnesty delegation stories, sang songs and used street theatre performances to illustrate the human rights violations they face everyday as slum residents.  Irene Khan noted:

“The development of slums in urban areas has become the iconic symbol of the forgotten, marginalized people – excluded not only from basic services like sanitation, but also from the decision making that takes place even in their own lives.”

In the settlements, children play in muddy streams which run through narrow passageways, while pathways are littered with garbage, animal and human waste. Overcrowding in Kibera – Africa’s largest slum – is a huge problem with more than 800,000 people living on 250 hectares

Many of the informal settlement residents described the insecurity associated with slum-life. In Korogocho, Irene Khan met with Mama Franco, a mother of three, who recently lost her few personal possessions in a house fire started by the paraffin lamp she uses as she has no electricity supply.  Mama Franco is one of an estimated 127,000 poor Kenyans who face losing their homes in a planned river clean up program.

Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign seeks to empower people living in poverty and take their voices to the highest level of government. The voices collected in Kenya’s informal settlements through the SMS action and website will be collected and presented to the Kenya government on World Habitat Day.