Kenya: Civic space and respect of fundamental freedoms key to peaceful elections – UN experts

GENEVA (21 July 2022) – UN experts today called on authorities, candidates and political parties in Kenya to foster an enabling environment for peaceful elections and prevent election-related violence, as the country prepares to hold general elections on 9 August.

“Civic space, public participation, fundamental freedoms and a violence-free environment are critical to foster inclusive engagement in the electoral process, and the exercise of political rights,” the experts emphasised.

The UN experts urged all stakeholders in Kenya to respect and uphold the right to political participation, freedoms of assembly, of association, of opinion and expression, and to respect the role of an independent judiciary in elections.

They noted that political tensions and violence during the campaign period as well as hate speech and incitement by candidates and their supporters have a dangerous potential to ignite or fan flames of violence.

“All those involved in the electoral process must commit themselves to peaceful conduct prior, during and after elections. Candidates and political parties must refrain from using inflammatory language which may lead to violence and human rights abuses, particularly against women, persons with disabilities, LGBTIQ+ individuals or ethnic groups,” the experts said.

Past cycles of Kenyan elections have been marked by violence and human rights violations, including loss of life and sexual and gender-based violence. Concerns about such alleged violations have been raised by several UN experts in a joint communication to the Government of Kenya following the 2017 elections.

“Authorities must take all necessary measures to prevent human rights violations during the current elections, including ensuring accountability. They must also vigorously pursue accountability for election-related violations and sexual violence committed during previous elections, to break cycles of violence and prevent recurrence,” the experts said, and noted that “Perpetrators who committed human rights violations during past elections are yet to be held accountable.”

The experts also noted the impact that repeated violence during past elections has had on the right to political participation, particularly for women candidates and voters.

They urged Kenyan authorities to take specific measures to ensure women can participate freely in the electoral process, without discrimination, harassment or fear of potential repetition of sexual and gender-based violence, considering its long-term consequences.

“The right to participate in public life, including the right to vote and stand for election without fear of violence is at the core of democratic governance,” the experts said. “Gendered hate speech, any verbal or online threats, intimidation or violence against women candidates and voters must be prevented and promptly addressed to ensure their meaningful participation in the elections process.”

The UN experts also urged authorities to ensure civil society, human rights defenders, election monitors and journalists can conduct their legitimate work without intimidation or reprisals. “They play a crucial role during elections to contribute to a free and inclusive electoral process and the credibility of results,” the experts said.

Welcoming the commitment by authorities to refrain from communications shutdowns during the election period, the experts said maintaining internet access and telecommunications was key to protecting civic space.

They also recalled the importance of respecting the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed by the Constitution of Kenya, during the electoral process. “Human rights defenders and journalists have a right to monitor and report on assemblies, and they must be protected and not obstructed during the exercise of these functions.”

“Effective law enforcement and public order management should facilitate the exercise of political rights and fundamental freedoms including the right to assembly by prioritising measures to de-escalate tensions, including through dialogue,” the experts said.

“The application of elections security management guidelines, that facilitate, respect and protect human rights and fundamentals freedoms will be critical to secure the right to political participation,” the experts added welcoming the collaboration between key institutions, including the judiciary, in the electoral preparedness in the country.

The UN experts emphasised the importance of creating an enabling environment for peaceful and inclusive elections that will deliver upon the aspirations of Kenyans.


(*) Read the Guidelines for proper management of assemblies, as well as the Guidelines on ensuring the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in electoral contexts and during (health) emergency crises. Read also the report A/HRC/50/42 of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, on Protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations.

*The experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls; The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls: Melissa Upreti (Chair), Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

The Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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