(New York, September 18, 2018) – The prominent Kenyan human rights activist Maina Kiai has joined Human Rights Watch to launch a new partnership initiative aimed at building alliances and engaging communities to promote human rights for all. With authoritarian populists gaining power and influence across the globe, social justice, the rule of law, and democratic values are under attack from leaders who tolerate no dissent.

Maina Kiai, photographed in Nairobi, Kenya, November, 2013.

“Human Rights Watch recognizes that lasting change in the struggle for basic rights and dignity can best be achieved by more directly enlisting those most affected,” Kiai said. “We want to engage communities to foster broader and more effective support for human rights and human dignity.”

Kiai was the first United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association from 2011 to 2017, chair of Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights, Africa director at Amnesty International, Africa director at the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington DC, founding executive director at the NGO Kenya Human Rights Commission, and most recently co-director of InformAction, a grassroots community organizing group in Kenya. Prior to returning to Kenya in 1992, Kiai was a research fellow at TransAfrica Forum, an African-American foreign policy organization working on US policy toward Africa. Throughout his career, Kiai has seen firsthand the challenges to human rights from governments that crack down on dissent by stifling civic groups and the media.

The initiative aims to enlist communities who suffer human rights violations but have not adopted rights-based approaches to find solutions, and will start in selected pilot countries

“We’re excited to welcome Maina and his vision of creating innovative alliances and strategies to reinvigorate human rights and civic engagement,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “We look forward to harnessing his expertise, creativity, and passion to bring lasting improvements in people’s lives.”