Kenya: 4 years after the signing of the PBO Act into law, Kenyan civil society is still under attack

Urgent Appeal


KEN 001 / 0117 / OBS 004
Harassment /
Smear campaign
January 13, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Kenya.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about a new campaign of harassment from the NGO Coordination Board targeting Kenyan civil society, four years after the signing into law of the Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Act 2013 on January 14, 2013.

According to the information received, Kenya’s NGO Coordination Board has been leading a smear campaign targeting the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), an organisation working to foster human rights, democratic values, human dignity and social justice within the country, accusing the organisation of financial and management impropriety, as part of a wider trend of harassment targeting civil society in the country.

On January 6, 2017 the NGO Coordination Board approached KHRC through email, threatening them to commence an inquiry into allegations of a number of acts of mismanagement and offences allegedly perpetrated by KHRC, which were included in an “internal memorandum” issued by the NGO Board on November 4, 2016.

It has to be stressed that KHRC learnt about this memorandum from media reports, which widely distributed the document. The document addressed several government agencies with a number of recommendations against KHRC. It advised the Central Bank of Kenya to take steps to freeze KHRC’s bank accounts. It requested the Directorate of Criminal Investigation to commence criminal investigations against KHRC and the Kenya Revenue Authority to commence measures to recover taxes that KHRC purportedly owes the government. The document contained further recommendations for the Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the authority that regulates the public accountancy profession, to commence investigations against the two audit firms working for KHRC, PWC and PKF [1].

The Observatory recalls that is not the first time that the NGO Board is publicly discrediting KHRC and other human rights organisations in Kenya [2]. On October 29, 2015, the NGO Coordination Board announced that it would cancel the registration of 957 NGOs, among which KHRC, because the concerned organisations had failed to account for funds and were supporting terrorism. Nonetheless, the Board declined to meet or to reply to correspondence from KHRC. In the end, the KHRC was compelled to commence legal action against the NGO Coordination Board. The High Court found that the failure by the NGO Coordination Board to give KHRC a hearing before arriving at a decision to cancel its registration was a violation of its constitutional rights and that this failure was compounded when the NGO board failed to furnish written reasons to KHRC.

The Observatory expresses its concern over the above-mentioned facts and urges authorities in Kenya to ensure that KHRC and its staff members can carry out their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities without any hindrance.

Furthermore on January 6, 2017 the Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho wrote to all the 47 county commissioners directing them to shut down NGOs that are not properly licensed or are implementing projects that they have not been registered to undertake. The directive also requires all foreign employees working for NGOs in the country to produce on demand a valid work permit issued by the Directorate of Immigration Services. They must also have a recommendation letter from the NGO Coordination Board.

The Observatory would like to recall that this happens under the same administration that has been undermining, for four years since its signing into law on January 14, 2013, the commencement of the Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Act 2013, a law seeking to provide an enabling environment for NGOs. Despite the High Court ruling for its immediate overdue commencement on October 31, 2016, no further step has been undertaken so far [3]. Instead, as of today the NGO Coordination Act 1990 is still regulating the space for civil society with broad and vague provisions leaving room for arbitrariness and abuses against NGOs [4].

The Observatory considers extremely worrisome this lack of political will to create a favourable environment for civil society to work without hindrances in the defence of human rights and strongly condemns this new attack against the Kenyan civil society.

Finally, the Observatory would like to reiterate the importance of guaranteeing the constitutional rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression, particularly in view of the upcoming general elections, in order to prevent the brutal experiences of excessive use of violence by the police that Kenya has faced around the past two general elections [5].

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Kenya urging them to:

i. Put an end to all forms of harassment and smearing campaigns against human rights defenders in Kenya as they only aim at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities;

ii. Guarantee under all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in the country:

iii.Follow the order of the High Court of Kenya by effectively implementing the PBO Act without further delay;

iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2; and

v. Ensure in all circumstances, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Kenya.


· Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya, Fax: +254-020-2436, Email:
· Hon. William Ruto, Deputy-President of the Republic of Kenya Email:
· Hon. Joseph Nkaissery, Interior & Coordination Ministry

· Mr. Joseph Boinnet, Inspector General of Police, Email:
· Macharia Njeru, Chairperson, Independent Policing Oversight Authority, Email:
· Otiende Amollo, Chairperson, Commission on
Administrative Justice,;
· Commissioner Kagwiria Mbogori, Chairperson, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), Fax: +254-020- 2716160 E-mail
· H.E. Mr. Stephen Ndungu Karau, Permanent Mission of Kenya to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 731 29 05, E-mail:
· H.E. Johnson Weru, Embassy of Kenya in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 340 10 50 / + 32 2 340 10 68. Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Kenya in your respective countries.

Paris-Geneva, January 13, 2017

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and OMCT. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail:
· Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

Read more