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Diplomacy is my style, Jaoko says

NAIROBI, August 3- Incoming Chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) Florence Jaoko has pledged to use her tenure to advocate for an open door policy with government bodies to facilitate a better working relationship rather the confrontational one that existed during her predecessor’s tenure.

Outgoing Chairman Maina Kiai’s tenure was controversial, often times ending up on opposing sides with key figures like Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Martha Karua and Police Commissioner Major General Hussein Ali.

Kiai whose term ended in June blamed the Commission’s shortcomings on failure by some Government officials to understand his team’s terms of reference.

Jaoko who becomes the second chairperson and first woman to sit at the helm of the commission said this will not deter them from pushing on with its watchdog mandate to expose cases of human rights violations.

She said: “Our challenge is that we are relating with the government not at the media level only when we are releasing reports. We should have regular meetings with the government. We should be liaising with the agencies.”

She said the commission worked closely with various ministries such as water, health and education as well government agencies such as Kenya Prison Service and Kenya Judges and Magistrates Association (KJMA) to ensure that there was compliance with constitutional standards but also international human rights standards.  

Jaoko however lamented that State agencies that have been mentioned adversely in past KNCHR reports are often reluctant to appear before it.

She said: “When we investigate, we are not saying you are wrong. We are just looking for information and we must get the information from both sides.”

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At the same, the KNCHR boss said her Commission should get increased funding, directly accountable to Parliament and drawn from the Treasury rather than from the Ministry of Justice.

She said the Commission is forced to rely on donor funds to run its programmes, revealing that they get less than Sh120 million from the government.

“You should be able to draw up you budget and defend it so that when Parliament thinks you are not using your money properly, it tells the public that this was the amount of money the Commission was given, and they spent it properly to this extent,” she said.

Regarding the Commission’s nationwide presence, Jaoko said she will have regional coordinator offices established at the district level in addition to two offices opened in North Eastern Province in order to increase accessibility and visibility by most Kenyans.

Jaoko further said that there has been increased public awareness, not just in the social and political rights but also health and economic rights. 

The incoming chair cites the case of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been calling for their rights to be resettled rather than their political rights that left them in their current position after being victimised on how they voted.

“Resettlement is not so much a civil and political right issue; it is more of a socio-economic issue. When you look at the conditions in the camp, we are taking about the health rights,” Jaoko pointed out. 

She said the commission will be focusing on the realisation of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and National Ethics and Relations Commission (NERC) as well as monitoring the performance of the Grand Coalition Government.

“We are going to work very closely with issues that have arisen because of the crisis, so we are looking at the IDPs, monitoring the Grand Coalition Government and issues outlined in Agenda Item Four (of the National Accord); because as a Commission we believe that what happened earlier in the year is actually going to inform a lot of things even in what government is going to do,” Jaoko explained.

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Jaoko who is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya was first appointed as a commissioner in July, 2003 and later served as Vice Chairperson since 2007.

Florence Simbiri-Jaoko holds an LLB from the University of Nairobi and LLM from the University of Bristol (England).

Prior to joining the National Commission, Jaoko was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and the Kenya School of Law. She has served as a Magistrate and a Principal Deputy Registrar of the High Court of Kenya and has extensive experience in judicial and human rights training.

Jaoko is a member of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya Chapter), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA, Kenya Chapter), and International Association of Refugee Judges.

The KNCHR boss called for amendments in the legislation governing the operations of tribunals to grant them powers to summon persons mentioned before it.

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