New Internationalist

Funding cuts threaten lives in Kenya

October 2008

Human skulls and decomposing bodies dug up in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province show signs of torture. Suspected criminals and members of ethnic gangs are gunned down. Such acts are widely believed to be the work of the country’s armed forces, particularly the military and police.

‘We are calling on Kenya to facilitate independent investigations into torture and war crimes committed by security forces, and urge donors, including London and Washington, to review military aid to Kenya,’ says Ben Rawlence, a researcher with the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch.

Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) – officially the watchdog that reports and advises on human rights issues – has been stymied by lack of funds. Since 2003, the Government has drastically reduced funding for the KNCHR – in 2002, it received $250,000 annually; today the figure is just $140,000. ‘We are now unable to carry out most programmes. Instances of human rights abuse are rampant and will continue until our budget is expanded,’ explains its commissioner, Hassan Omar Hassan.

Kenya’s autocratic regime was replaced by a popularly elected one in 2002 on a platform of protecting human rights. Although the democratic space has increased considerably, the police continue to carry out extra-judicial murders. KNCHR’s chairperson Maina Kiai warns: ‘Without a viable human rights watchdog, the security apparatus has carte blanche to kill its citizenry without fear of reprimand or apprehension. The [police] will continue denying their involvement, with the tacit support of Government.’

Tabitha Nderitu

This column was published in the October 2008 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 416

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