NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 14 – Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called on parliament to reject the controversial security bill which President Uhuru Kenyatta insists must be passed.
The internationally constituted human rights advocacy groups say the new amendments infringes on the bill of rights and not only goes against the Kenyan constitution but international law, as it seeks to curtail the freedoms of expression and association.
“Kenya’s constitution requires a referendum before any new law that limits rights protected under Chapter Four of the Constitution can be adopted. But no referendum was proposed for this bill,” the two lobby groups stated in a joint statement issued on Sunday.
They’ve also questioned the motive behind the rush to pass the proposed legislation.
Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi is understood to be preparing to call a special session on Thursday next week, to enable MPs pass the bill into law.
“The bill was offered for parliamentary debate within hours, leaving no time for public scrutiny and comment. The bill’s amendments have also been described as “minor,” which exempts it from lengthy procedures and scrutiny that would have been required had it been introduced as a substantive bill,” they further stated.
The bill as presently formulated, they say, will turn Kenya back into the police state it was during Daniel Arap Moi’s tenure as President in the 1980s and 1990s.
“The bill seeks to significantly expand the powers of intelligence officers. Such powers had been withdrawn in the 1990s after the then Special Branch, now the NIS, was accused of the torture of political activists and of detaining them for several years without trial,” Amnesty and HRW referenced.
The solution to Kenya’s security problems, they therefore propose, is not to increase police powers, or the power of the Executive over the police, but to increase police accountability through independent, already constitutionally mandated bodies.
“The government of President Uhuru Kenyatta has also passed laws this year that weaken accountability and oversight mechanisms such as the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA),” they accused.
On Saturday Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga also argued that the key to Kenya’s security problems is the police reform agreed to between his and former President Mwai Kibaki’s factions in the Serena accord that followed the 2008 post-election violence, and amending laws.
“The whole reason we gave the office of the Inspector General security of tenure was to avoid a repeat of the 2008 situation where the Executive abused its power over the police to commit atrocities against its own citizenry. This bill takes us back,” Odinga explained.
Amnesty and HRW have therefore aligned themselves with the opposition in opposing the adoption of a bill which they say would reverse the civil liberties fought for by Kenyans over decades and in one stroke of the pen, it difficult for civil society and the media to hold the government to account.
“Article 4 would authorize the cabinet secretary for interior to decide when and where public meetings can be held. Kenya has a history of retaining executive control over public gatherings that was used to restrict freedom of peaceful assembly during the Moi government,” they cited.