Mutunga cautions against demonisation of civil society

June 19, 2015 1:22 pm
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Mutunga who was himself a pro-democracy activist prior to taking up his position on the bench, said it was, "laughable," to equate civil society to "a few human rights NGOs and the individuals that lead them."
Mutunga who was himself a pro-democracy activist prior to taking up his position on the bench, said it was, “laughable,” to equate civil society to “a few human rights NGOs and the individuals that lead them.”

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 19 – In a strongly worded statement, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga on Thursday defended the role of the civil society both in security and in the promotion of democracy.

Mutunga who was himself a pro-democracy activist prior to taking up his position on the bench, said it was, “laughable,” to equate civil society to “a few human rights NGOs and the individuals that lead them.”

He said the concept of civil society was much broader and that as their role is enshrined in the Constitution as “we the people.”

Civil society, Mutunga said, acted as a bridge between government and the populace and were therefore vital in Kenya’s war against terror.

“Communities beat terrorism. Civil society is the state’s bridge to communities,” he defended.

Two Mombasa based NGOs Haki Africa and Muslim for Human Rights (MUHURI) earlier in the month successfully obtained an injunction against their labelling as terrorist groups after the national government froze their accounts on suspicion of financing the Al Shabaab.

READ: Kenyan rights groups celebrate lifting of ‘terrorist’ tag

Some foreign governments have in the recent past also come under criticism for financing civil society groups accused of being opposed to the sitting government.

READ: US denies funding anti Kenya govt protests

The African Union has itself accused the said, ‘foreign agents’ of financing the NGOs they claim were behind the prosecution of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto before the International Criminal Court.

READ: Africa warns Hague court over ties with NGOs

In light of the above, Jubilee legislators are in support of legislation that would to restrict the amount of foreign funding NGOs can receive and require them to make public their sources.

A requirement UK High Commissioner Christian Turner said he understood in the interest of accountability and transparency.

But he did welcome the multi-sectoral taskforce approach to the amendments the government seeks to make to the Public Benefits Organisations Act.

Turner and Mutunga made the remarks at Thursday’s celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s birthday at the British High Commissioner to Kenya’s residence.

Mutunga who was among the founding members of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and one of the leading figures in the push for multi-party democracy and formulation of the current, “progressive,” constitution was keen to make the point that criticism shouldn’t be seen to opposition to the government.

A position that is hardly surprising given he was detained and sought exile for his activism.

“Civil Society is the agent of critique and monitoring of the state and its institutions. It is the bridge that enables the state to lead and unleash the protective forces in our communities against insecurity and terrorism,” he underscored.

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