The year is ending, and we’re looking back at our 2021 achievements and interventions that promoted and protected human rights. Without a doubt, we did a lot; however, we selected these few impactful moments for clarity and length. More about our work here.
Freedom of Information (FOIA) request
Before the year ended, together with the Global Justice Clinic and the Center for Constitutional Rights, we filed Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests focusing on grave violations committed by Kenyan units “set up, equipped, trained, funded, and/or guided” by the U.S. government. The U.S. government has close ties to a secretive Kenyan paramilitary team, Rapid Response Team (RRT), implicated in human rights abuses. An unknown number of “kill or capture” raids have reportedly been made by the 60-strong commando team, some based on mistaken identity. FOIA targets records related to abusive operations by U.S.-backed units from January 1, 2003, to the present.
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ 69th session
Shortly before we filed the FOIA request, we took the floor at the 69th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) hosted in Dakar, Senegal. Here, we asked the Commission to hold the US government liable for its post 9/11 extraordinary rendition programs, which systematically abducted people from locations across the world to other countries for torture. Ahead of this presentation, we had, on September 27, 2021, submitted a shadow report to the Commission demonstrating how the Kenya government also carried out and aided these crimes.
Enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings
News emerged in August indicating how Garissa divers retrieved 16 bodies from the Tana River for the last three months. The decomposed bodies had signs of torture—mutilated limbs and crushed skulls, and hands tied with stones and logs on the back to make them sink. It happened as families of 14 people, whom police arrested in Garissa from October 2020, struggled to locate them, pondering if they are alive or dead. We camped in Garissa to piece up facts about this case and produced a report showing the gravity of the violations.
Earlier in Mombasa on March 27, police murdered five people in Bombolulu and told the press that there was an “exchange of fire”. We investigated this shooting and came up with a shocking discovery: What started as a police abduction on March 17 ended in a coldblooded murder 10 days later—five men executed at dawn in an abandoned house.
The Bombolulu incident appeared to be an escalation of the police’s kill or capture mission that started in February in Likoni, resulting in more deaths and forced disappearances. Within eight days of night-time raids beginning on February 16, security agents had arrested five people in the constituency: two turned up dead, two went missing, and one returned. Likewise, we investigated this incident.
On March 25, together with the Missing Voices coalition, we held a night vigil to remember victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Hours before, we joined the coalition to launch its 2020 report that exposed the severity of abuses. The Kenyan Police, the report showed, killed 157 people and forcefully disappeared 10 others in 2020, making it one of the deadliest years since the coalition started keeping the record in 2018.
Right to life and habeas corpus
In 2021, we filed two habeas corpus cases at Mombasa and Malindi High Courts, seeking the release of two people from police custody after their separate abductions between February and June. Security agents abducted Bakari Mwanyota, a butcher shop attendant in Likoni, Mombasa, on February 23, while Yasir Mahmoud suffered the same fate on June 19, our records and court’s show. In all cases, police have never released or arraigned the abductees, despite two orders from a Malindi Judge directing police to produce Mahmoud. Read Mombasa case here and Malindi here.
Separately, on September 9, five police officers were finally charged with the in-custody murder of Mombasa tout Caleb Espino, three years after his death. We investigated this incident. It occurred at Changamwe police station on September 17, 2018. We followed through with an autopsy that confirmed it was a homicide and persistently pushed for justice—even to the extent of going for a private prosecution. Now, we are watching brief on behalf of Espino’s family.
The demise of Espino at Changamwe police station is among several in-custody deaths we recorded over the years. And in November this year, following the conviction of four police officers for the death of British citizen Alexander Manson, the Judiciary came up with regulations, coded Ogola Rules, that seek to keep police cells safe. We covered it for you.
Right to protest
Article 37 of the constitution says everyone has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, demonstrate, picket, and present petitions to public authorities. However, when two of our staff and six Taveta locals wanted to exercise this right, police arrested them, and a state prosecutor charged each with assembling “unlawfully”. They attempted to present a petition over the rundown healthcare in Taita Taveta. But eight months later, following their March arraignment, Taveta Law Courts found them not guilty and affirmed this right.
But it’s a different story in Mombasa: Our Board chair Khelef Khalifa and a rapid response officer Francis Auma continue to face a count of “creating a disturbance” for simply protesting peacefully and unarmed and questioning M-pesa-only toll at the Likoni channel. The court dropped the charge of causing an obstruction. We, therefore, sued to stop the M-pesa charge.
The High Court and Court of Appeal gave orders that effectively stopped the illegal overhaul of the constitution, through BBI, following multiple petitions, including ours. There’s an appeal at the Supreme Court. Our petition challenged the BBI signature verification process because no law guides the exercise, especially if it leads to a referendum—and the two courts concurred with us. Here’s an opportunity to read our petition that got consolidated with others.
Our quest for accountability, openness and transparency didn’t stop with the fall of BBI. We were part of the suit that calls for the disclosure of the Standard Gauge Railway contracts. Okoa Mombasa—a coalition of which we are a member—and the Institute for Social Accountability (TISA), via Khelef Khalifa and Wanjiru Gikonyo, respectively, sued five government officials for failing to proactively and disclose SGR contracts after request. These agreements ought to be public, but the Kenyan government, without justification, classified them.
Our programs recorded remarkable success. For instance, Religious Minorities: Overcoming Divide, Respecting Rights changed pupils’ attitudes towards religions they once viewed as hostile. And activists, who are increasingly facing threats in their line of duty, are embracing new strategies to remain safe courtesy of a program on collective protection, which allows them to cross-learn.
International Human Rights Day
And finally, when the world marked Human Rights Day, we used the opportunity to premier our success in stopping gender-based violence (GBV)—and finding justice for the survivors. In Garissa, for example, we showed the story of a six-year-old boy who got sodomized by his madrassa teacher – a person entrusted to keep him safe. The story highlighted the importance of judicial mechanisms in addressing GBV.
See you in 2022! We commit to continue standing for a just society anchored on human rights and the rule of law.