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Defending Human Rights

A wide array of local human rights organizations were engaged in monitoring human rights in Kenya. Although these organizations were able to function, they periodically came under attack from the government for their work. The risk that human rights defenders faced was highlighted on August 24 when Father John Kaiser, a well-known human rights activist, was found dead by the side of the road shot in the head. The brutal murder was carried out at night by unidentified persons on the Naivasha Road, some fifty miles outside Nairobi. A Catholic parish priest in the Rift Valley area and a U.S. citizen, Kaiser had worked in Kenya for thirty-six years and had been an outspoken critic of state-sponsored "ethnic" violence and other rights violations. Most recently, he had brought attention to a case in which two girls had allegedly been raped by a local politician, and had helped furnish the evidence that the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA) used to institute a private prosecution against Julius Sunkuli, minister of state in the office of the president. Following the murder of Kaiser, FIDA officials reported anonymous death threats over the telephone. In November 1999, the immigration department had refused to renew Kaiser's work permit, normally routine for foreign priests working in Kenya, until pressure was brought by the church and human rights groups which accused the government of trying to silence the priest. In 1999, the Law Society of Kenya had honored Kaiser with its annual human rights award. Kaiser was the fifth priest to have been killed since 1994 either by police or by unidentified gunmen. In none of these cases have the perpetrators been held accountable.

There were some hopeful efforts in 2000 to strengthen the weak mandate and capacity of the government's Human Rights Standing Committee. The Standing Committee, a marginal and largely ineffective body, was founded by the president in 1996 in response to donor pressure. By law, its members were appointed by the president, it reported only to him, action was decided by him, and only the president could remove its members. In 2000, after two years, the attorney general finalized a proposed bill to provide greater powers to the committee, including subpoena powers, financial autonomy through the parliament instead of the attorney-general's office, and security of tenure. In March 2000, a consultative workshop, funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was held to discuss the draft National Commission on Human Rights Draft Bill with relevant representatives from government and civil society groups as well as the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The proposed law had not been passed by parliament as of October 2000.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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