According to the UN, “There is no strict definition of human rights defenders because they can be anyone who acts at any moment for any human rights. A human rights defender can be a man, a woman, a lawyer, a student, an NGO’s employee, a doctor or any person from any profession, of all ages, nationalities, religions, etc. A person can also be considered as a human rights defender whether she promotes and protects human rights her whole life, occasionally, or only once”
Defending human rights is a personal call that requires commitment and determination to achieve. Whereas resources are vital in facilitating human rights work, we do not need money to speak out against human rights violations taking place in our sight. Some of the actions are as simple as asking the violator to stop what they are doing and letting them know the repercussions of what they are doing.
Legal Framework Guarding the work of Human Rights Defenders
There are a number of people who fear up-taking of human rights work fearing repercussions that come on the way like intimidation, threats, physical assaults, arbitrary arrests amongst others. A conducive legal environment is key in protecting the work of human rights defenders from such incidents. HRDs in Kenya should utilize the following national and international legal instruments in the course of their work.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders obliges states to adopt legislative, administrative and other steps necessary to ensure that HRDs are able to enjoy their rights and freedoms in the context of their work to promote human rights. Yet while the Kenyan government has not adopted a specific legal framework for HRDs, the Constitution strongly protects the rights of all Kenyans. According to the Constitution, “[e]very person shall enjoy the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights to the greatest extent consistent with the nature of the right or fundamental freedom.” Furthermore, the constitution provides that international law forms part of the Kenyan law. Therefore, the Kenyan government is under a constitutional obligation to defend, protect and promote the rights of all its citizens, including HRDs.
Regional Human Rights Instruments
Regionally, Kenya is party to a number of human rights instruments produced by the African Union and because Kenya has ratified them, as per Article 2 of the Constitution, they form part of the Laws of Kenya. These human rights instruments include the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights (Banjul Charter), the Protocol to the African Charter on Rights of Women in Africa and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Again, HRDs can use these instruments to advocate for the human rights of others and themselves.
Following the introduction of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, there was special recognition of the need to protect HRDs in Africa in 2003 when the Kigali Declaration noted: the important role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in general and human rights defenders in particular, in the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa, [and] calls upon Member States and regional institutions to protect them and encourage the participation of CSOs in decision-making processes with the aim of consolidating participatory democracy and sustainable development.
Then in 2004, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted the Resolution on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Africa which highlights with grave concern: the growing risks faced by human rights defenders in Africa… [and the] impunity for threats, attacks and acts of intimidation against human rights defenders persists and that this impacts negatively on the work and safety of human rights defenders.
International Human Rights Instruments
Kenya is a state party to various international human rights instruments and under Article 2 (6) of the Constitution, any treaty or convention ratified by Kenya shall form part of the Laws of Kenya. A number of international human rights instruments have been ratified by Kenya and are relevant to the work of human rights defenders. Some of the relevant human rights instruments that are binding law in Kenya include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention against Torture, Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. HRDs can use these instruments alongside national laws to advocate for human rights. These international laws are also useful in holding state and non-state actors to account for their actions taken against HRDs due to their work in promoting and protecting human rights.
There is also a UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. This Special Rapporteur was established in 2000 soon after the passing of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders126 in order to collect data concerning HRDs, engage governments in dialogue on improving the situation for HRDs and recommending effective strategies for protecting HRDs.
For more information on the legal framework for HRDs, read NCHRD-K’s Case Digest via: https://hrdcoalition.org/double-edged-sworda-case-digest-for-hrds-in-kenya-2013-2015/
What are the benefits of defending human rights?
Defending human rights is a noble course in that it is hard to substantially state what benefits a human rights defender receives from the work. Defending human rights is above self benefits and thus the following cannot exhaust all it means to defend human rights:
- It ensures human rights based approach planning by the relevant stakeholders. Governments and private entities should ensure basic rights like right to life, health, non-discrimination amongst others are adhered to before any programming is done.
- A conducive living environment for all people. Social justice is key in development for any nation to ensure self-sustenance of the nation with support of its people. Any nation that wants to develop has to ensure that all people feel safe in their country.
- Operationalization of human rights instruments. A number of international human rights instruments have been drafted and adopted at the UN General Assembly. However, some member states have not ratified some of these laws which are critical in ensuring the states are human rights compliant. HRDs have been at the forefront in ensuring that states comply with the laws.
- Opportunities of making the world a better place for everyone to live in. HRDs offer solutions to governments and international mechanisms on their planning for a better world. HRDs are able to travel locally and abroad to help in creating a conducive environment for all. Thus, anyone striving to make the world a better place, may it be for