Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president, deputy president, and parliamentarians, as well as county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won re-election as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities, and the court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president that the opposition boycotted. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared President Kenyatta winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results.
The National Police Service maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence internally as well as externally and reports directly to the president. The Kenya Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including post disaster response. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government and by the terrorist group al-Shabaab; forced disappearances by the government or on behalf of the government and by al-Shabaab; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by the government; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women and girls; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority, established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The government took limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although the Independent Policing Oversight Authority continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common.
Al-Shabaab staged deadly attacks on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. In January militants carried out five attacks, killing more than a dozen persons, including three teachers and four children. The government continued to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterror operations.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arrest or detention without a court order unless there are reasonable grounds for believing a suspect has committed or is about to commit a criminal offense. Police, however, arrested and detained persons arbitrarily, accused them of a crime to mask underlying police abuses, or accused them of more severe crimes than they had committed. For example, legal rights NGOs and prison officials reported overuse of the charge of “robbery with violence” that may carry a life sentence, even when violence or threats of violence were insignificant. Some petty offenders consequently received disproportionately heavy sentences.
Poor casework, incompetence, and corruption undermined successful prosecutions. Police also frequently failed to enter detainees into custody records, making it difficult to locate them. Dispute resolution at police stations resolved a significant number of crimes, but authorities did not report or record them, according to human rights organizations.
Witness harassment and fear of retaliation severely inhibited the investigation and prosecution of major crimes. The Witness Protection Agency was underfunded, and doubts about its independence were widespread. Nevertheless, the Witness Protection Agency continued to work closely with IPOA and other investigative bodies to provide security for witnesses and victims.
NGOs reported an increase of arbitrary arrests and detention of activists, journalists, and bloggers during the year. In October the Defenders Coalition said it had provided support, including legal representation and bail, to 127 activists who had been arrested or detained since March. Most activists were released within short periods, usually less than 24 hours, and in most cases prosecutors either declined to press charges or courts dismissed the cases. In September, NGO Article 19 stated at least 20 journalists, including online communicators, had been arrested or threatened with prosecution since March while reporting on the government’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, except “to promote public benefit,” but authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The law permits police to enter a home without a search warrant if the time required to obtain a warrant would prejudice an investigation. Although security officers generally obtained search warrants, they occasionally conducted searches without warrants in the course of large-scale security sweeps to apprehend suspected criminals or to seize property believed stolen. For example, in 2017, according to multiple press and NGO reports, police conducted house-to-house operations in Kisumu County in connection with protests in the wake of the August 2017 election. In one of the homes, police allegedly beat a husband, wife, and their six-month-old daughter (known as “Baby Pendo”). The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights confirmed the infant died of her injuries. In February 2019 the magistrate found five senior police officers culpable in the death of the infant and forwarded the inquest results to the ODPP to press charges. She also ordered the DPP to investigate 31 other police officers who may have been involved in the infant’s death. IPOA, in coordination with ODPP, launched a new investigation on the case during the year to collect additional evidence.
Human rights organizations reported police officers raided homes in informal settlements in Nairobi and communities in the coast region in search of suspected terrorists and weapons. The organizations documented numerous cases in which plainclothes police officers searched residences without a warrant, and household goods were confiscated when residents were unable to provide receipts of purchase on demand. Rights groups reported police in numerous locations broke into homes and businesses and extorted money from residents while enforcing measures to control the pandemic.
The government continued efforts to roll out the National Integrated Identity Management System through the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act No. 18 of 2018. This act requires citizens to register their personal details, including biometrics, in order to receive a unique identifier number required to access public services. In January the High Court ruled the government could only continue implementation of the program after it put in place “an appropriate and comprehensive regulatory framework,” including on data protection and security. The government issued new data protection rules and regulations in October, but some civil society groups alleged the rules did not fully satisfy the court conditions. The Nubian Rights Council and other human rights organizations expressed concerns the program could exclude minority groups from accessing government services. President Kenyatta presented the first 12 identifier cards, widely known as Huduma Namba cards, in a public ceremony in October. In November the government stated nationwide issuance of cards would begin on December 1 and existing national identity cards would be phased out by the end of 2021. In November the president appointed the country’s first data commissioner to oversee the implementation of the data protection law enacted in late 2019 and the accompanying regulations.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens, and the government respected those rights, but it placed restrictions on movement for refugees.
In-country Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers were required to register with the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat, and the law reiterates strict implementation of the encampment policy. The Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) was responsible for refugee management in the country and continued to enforce the encampment policy requiring all refugees and asylum seekers to reside in the designated refugee camps, despite a Court of Appeal decision to the contrary.
On April 29, the Interior Ministry released a Public Act Order on cessation of movements in and out of refugee camps for 28 days through May 27 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since the government had not issued an order to lift the decree, the movement restrictions in and out of the refugee camps remained de facto as of October 23.
Prior to the restriction of movement, the RAS issued newly arrived asylum seekers registration documents and movement passes requiring them to report to the camps. Refugees needing to move outside the designated areas (Kakuma camp, Kalobeyei settlement, and the Dadaab refugee camp complex) had to obtain a temporary movement pass issued by the RAS. Stringent vetting requirements and long processing times delayed the issuance of temporary movement passes in the camps.
Given the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols for staff, the RAS significantly reduced client-facing activity in its Nairobi office, including reducing the registration of new arrivals, which further influenced refugee movement. Its office in Kakuma refugee camp temporarily suspended non-life-saving client services requiring in-person contact. The office in Kakuma, however, continued to register new arrivals and reactivate authorizations for refugees returning to the camp to allow them access to life-saving humanitarian programming. The movement pass requirements for any refugee movement outside the designated areas remained unchanged.
The law allows exemption categories for specific groups to live outside designated camp areas, including in protection and medical cases. The government granted limited travel permission to refugees to receive specialized medical care outside the camps, and to refugees enrolled in public schools. It made exceptions to the encampment policy for extremely vulnerable groups in need of protection. The government continued to provide in-country movement and exit permits for refugee interviews and departures for third-country resettlement, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit on an exceptional basis due to the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols for staff.
Although there were no restrictions on movements of internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons in the country faced significant restrictions on their movement (see section 2.g.).
f. Protection of Refugees
The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. In 2017 the country pledged to apply the UNHCR Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework to enhance refugee self-reliance, increase access to solutions, and improve conditions in countries of origin for safe and voluntary returns. Implementation, however, was largely lacking.
In 2017 the High Court blocked the government’s plan to close the Dadaab refugee camp complex, ruling the plan violated the principle of nonrefoulement and refugees’ constitutional rights to fair administrative action. As of year’s end, the government had not appealed the High Court’s ruling. While the court’s 2017 decision eased pressure on Somalis who feared the camp would close by the government-imposed deadline, during the year the government expressed a renewed interest in closing Dadaab, requesting UNHCR to relocate all refugees from Dadaab. The camp closure discussion created uncertainty for the more than 200,000 refugees residing there.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police abuse, including detention of asylum seekers and refugees, continued, often due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to those holding refugee or asylum-seeker documentation or those who illegally entered the country and were apprehended. Most detainees were released after a court appearance or intervention by organizations such as the Refugee Consortium of Kenya or Kituo Cha Sheria.
During the year the security situation in Dadaab improved but remained precarious. There were no attacks on humanitarian workers and no detonations of improvised explosive devices within 15 miles of the refugee complex during the year. The security partnership between UNHCR and local police remained strong and led to improvements in camp security through community policing and neighborhood watch initiatives.
Sexual and gender-based violence against refugees and asylum seekers remained a problem, particularly for vulnerable populations, including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees and asylum seekers. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, female genital mutilation mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), and early and forced marriage, particularly of Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Somali girls (see section 6). Although there was increased community engagement to reduce sexual and gender-based violence and strengthened partnerships, including with the local authorities, sexual and gender-based violence continued to affect women and girls due to their low social and economic status in the community. Most urban refugees resided in informal settlements, where insecurity and sexual and gender-based violence was rampant. Women in female-headed households and young girls separated from families due to conflict were most at risk due to lack of male protection within their families. Girls and boys out of school were at risk of abuse, survival sex, and early marriage. Despite strong awareness programs in the camps, underreporting persisted due to community preference for maslaha, a traditional form of jurisprudence prevalent in the region, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism; shortages of female law enforcement officers; limited awareness of what constitutes sexual and gender-based violence among vulnerable populations; and the medical forensic requirements for trying alleged rape cases.
Refugees have equal access to justice and the courts under the law, although following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts scaled down operations, prioritizing urgent cases and deferring nonurgent cases. Refugees were often unable to obtain legal services because of the prohibitive cost and their lack of information on their rights and obligations, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR, through its partners, continued to provide legal assistance and representation to refugees to increase their access to justice. The law specifically provides that refugees are eligible to receive legal aid services. The law, however, had not been fully operationalized.
Many refugees dealt with criminality in accordance with their own customary law and traditional practices, although some opted to go through the country’s justice system. Other security problems in refugee camps included petty theft, banditry, and ethnic violence, according to UNHCR.
During the year UNHCR assisted 79 persons to return voluntarily to their places of origin, all of whom returned to Ethiopia. Insecurity and unfavorable conditions in countries of origin such as South Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as border closures and movement restrictions due to COVID-19, hindered returns.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to camp-based refugees. The government generally coordinated with UNHCR to provide assistance and protection to refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps and urban areas. The government had yet to register more than 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers estimated to reside in Dadaab, the majority of whom were Somali. Pressure from UNHCR and the international community resulted in the government’s registration of a number of extremely vulnerable individuals. South Sudanese refugees received prima facie refugee status.
According to UNHCR, as of September 30, the country hosted 499,219 registered refugees and asylum seekers, including 221,102 in the Dadaab refugee camp complex, 197,341 in Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement, and 80,776 in urban areas. Most refugees and asylum seekers were from Somalia (269,541), with others coming from South Sudan (122,610), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (44,763), Ethiopia (28,915), Burundi (16,158), and other countries (17,232). Most refugees arriving in Kakuma were from South Sudan, and the refugee population in Dadaab was primarily Somali. New arrivals also included individuals from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The tripartite agreement on voluntary repatriation between Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR expired in 2018, although the spirit of the agreement and coordination remained. Since 2014 a total of 84,981 Somali refugees had voluntarily repatriated under the agreement.
The RAS, responsible for refugee management in the country, maintained a cooperative working relationship with UNHCR, which continued to provide it with technical support and capacity building.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees’ freedom of movement was significantly restricted due to the country’s strict encampment policies as well as COVID-19 (see section 2.d.).
Employment: By law refugees are generally not permitted to work in the country. While the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act allows recognized refugees to engage in any occupation, trade, business, or profession upon approval of applications for a Class M work permit, many barriers and red tape hinder refugees’ ability to secure work permits. Only refugees with specialized skills or those who could invest were successful in obtaining a work permit from the Immigration Department.
Access to Basic Services: Despite the encampment policy, many refugees resided in urban areas, even though they lacked documentation authorizing them to do so. This affected their access to basic government services, including the National Hospital Insurance Fund, education, employment, business licenses, financial institutions, mobile phones, and related services. In addition they were vulnerable to arrest, police harassment, and extortion.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Despite public progress in fighting corruption during the year, the government did not implement relevant laws effectively. Officials frequently engaged in allegedly corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: During the year the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) initiated investigations and prosecutions of high-level cases involving six county governors and dozens of national government and parastatal officials with ties to the ruling party and to the political opposition. A landmark ruling in 2019 bars county governors from accessing their offices until their corruption cases are concluded. One governor was indicted and impeached by the county assembly while his case continued in the courts. The EACC was also investigating high-level procurement irregularities at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, a state agency with the sole mandate of procuring medications and equipment for government health centers. The investigations involved procurement of personal protective equipment at inflated costs and probed the alleged disappearance of personal protective equipment and other equipment donated to the country. These investigations and prosecutions continued at year’s end.
The public continued to perceive corruption as a severe problem at all levels of government. A 2019 survey by Transparency International found 45 percent of respondents had paid a bribe, compared with 37 percent in the previous 2015 survey. Police and authorities issuing identification documents were cited the most for taking bribes. Corruption had increased according to 67 percent of respondents, and 71 percent believed the government was doing a poor job of combating corruption, unchanged from the results of Transparency’s 2015 poll.
In January 2019 President Kenyatta appointed a new chief executive officer of the EACC, who introduced a new approach to tackling corruption that prioritized high-impact cases, systems reviews, assets recovery, and public communication. In the commissioner’s first year in office, the EACC secured 44 convictions, one of the highest tallies in its 17 years of existence, and recovered assets of more than three billion shillings ($30 million), exceeding what had been recovered over the previous five years combined. At the end of 2019, the EACC reported 407 criminal corruption cases and 778 civil cases pending in court. Officials from agencies tasked with fighting corruption, including the EACC, the ODPP, and judiciary, were also subjects of corruption allegations.
The EACC has the legal mandate to investigate official corruption allegations, develop and enforce a code of ethics for public officials, and engage in public outreach on corruption. The EACC, however, lacks prosecutorial authority and must refer cases to the ODPP to initiate prosecutions. During the year the ODPP established a multiagency team tasked with collaboration on investigations and prosecution of high-profile organized crimes like corruption. Operational conflict, however, between the ODPP and Directorate of Criminal Investigations with regards to which office can initiate investigations and deliver files to court resulted in the delayed prosecution of the Kenya Ports Authority managing director on corruption allegations.
The government took additional steps during the year to combat corruption, including increasing the number of investigations and prosecutions. The government made limited progress on other commitments, including adoption of international anticorruption standards and digitization of government records and processes. Because courts had significant case backlogs, cases could take years to resolve.
Police corruption remained a significant problem. Human rights NGOs reported police often stopped and arrested citizens to extort bribes. Police sometimes jailed citizens on trumped-up charges or beat those who could not pay the bribes. During police vetting conducted by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) in recent years, many police officers were found to have the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in their bank accounts, far exceeding what would be possible to save from their salaries. Mobile money records showed some officers also transferred money to superior officers.
The judiciary and the National Police Service continued measures to reform the handling of traffic cases by police and courts, streamlining the management of traffic offenses to curb corruption. Despite this progress, no senior police official was convicted or jailed for corruption-related offenses during the year.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officers to declare their income, assets, and liabilities to their “responsible commission” (for example, the Parliamentary Service Commission in the case of members of parliament) every two years. Public officers must also include the income, assets, and liabilities of their spouses and dependent children younger than 18. Failure to submit the declaration as required by law or providing false or misleading information is punishable by a substantial fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both. Information contained in these declarations was not readily available to the public, and the relevant commission must approve requests to obtain and publish this information. Any person who publishes or otherwise makes public information contained in public officer declarations without such permission may be subject to imprisonment for up to five years, a fine, or both. Authorities also required police officers undergoing vetting to file financial disclosure reports for themselves and their immediate family members. These reports were publicly available.
The law requires public officers to register potential conflicts of interest with the relevant commissions. The law identifies the interests public officials must register, including directorships in public or private companies, remunerated employment, securities holdings, and contracts for supply of goods or services, among others. The law requires candidates seeking appointment to nonelected public offices to declare their wealth, political affiliations, and relationships with other senior public officers. This requirement is in addition to background screening on education, tax compliance, leadership, and integrity. Many officials met these requirements and reported potential conflicts of interest. Authorities did not strictly enforce ethics rules relating to the receipt of gifts and hospitality by public officials.
There were no reported challenges to any declarations of wealth–which normally are not made public–filed by public officials. The requirement for asset and conflict of interest declarations was suspended by a 2018 Public Service Commission memo. The memo was issued after the commission’s engagement with government stakeholders indicated a need for clarity on completing the assets registry. The Public Service Commission’s suspension of the requirement led to inconsistency in the application of the directive, with some institutions requiring declarations while others did not.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The 2019 census recognized 45 ethnic groups in the country; none holds a majority. The Kikuyu and related groups dominated much of private commerce and industry and often purchased land outside their traditional home areas, which sometimes resulted in fierce resentment from other ethnic groups, especially in the coastal and Rift Valley areas. Competition for water and pasture was especially serious in the north and northeast.
There was frequent conflict, including banditry, fights over land, and cattle rustling, among the Somali, Turkana, Gabbra, Borana, Samburu, Rendille, and Pokot ethnic groups in arid northern, eastern, and Rift Valley areas that at times resulted in deaths. Disputes over county borders were also a source of ethnic tensions.
In April a government task force attributed tribal clashes in Narok County to disputes over land ownership, sharing of local resources, and boundaries as well as incitement by local politicians. In May media reported at least 20 persons had died during the year due to clashes between Maasai and the Kipsigis, a subgroup of the Kalenjin tribe. In September, two Maasai clans signed a peace agreement to end a dispute that had lasted more than four decades.
Conflict continued among the various communities living in Eastern Mau Forest in Nakuru County due to long-running disputes over land, cattle rustling, and competition for resources. In July, eight persons died, 83 were injured, and more than 198 houses burned. More than 3,000 families were displaced, and the government imposed a five-day curfew. In September, one person died and 12 others were injured after renewed fighting.
Media reported at least 30 persons died in June and July during tribal clashes in Marsabit County along the border with Ethiopia. In September the National Cohesion and Integration Commission facilitated peace talks between leaders of the ethnic communities.
Ethnic differences also caused a number of discriminatory employment practices (see section 7.d.).