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:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, particularly of known or suspected criminals, including terrorists. Between July 2019 and June 30, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) received 161 complaints regarding deaths resulting from police actions or inactions, compared with 119 in the prior year. The Missing Voices website, founded by a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to track police killings and disappearances, as of November documented 127 cases of killings and suspected enforced disappearances during the year.
Some groups alleged authorities significantly underestimated the number of extrajudicial killings by security forces, including due to underreporting of such killings in informal settlements, particularly in dense urban areas. Media reports and NGOs attributed many human rights abuses to counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and the northeast counties of Mandera, Garissa, and Wajir bordering Somalia, as well as along the coast. Human rights groups reported these abuses targeted Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis. In a report released in January, NGO HAKI Africa and its partners alleged suspected security force members killed 43 persons, including many ethnic Somalis, in the coastal region in 2019. HAKI reported extremists and criminal groups killed 11 individuals and civilian mobs killed five persons during the same period in the six coastal counties.
On March 27, the government began enforcing a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Media and human rights groups reported police used excessive and arbitrary force to enforce these measures, which led to deaths and injuries. As of September 22, IPOA stated it received 93 complaints of police misconduct while enforcing the curfew, involving 20 deaths and 73 injuries from shootings, assaults, and inhuman treatment. In October, NGO Independent Medico-Legal Unit reported it documented 26 killings by police during the pandemic. As of June the Social Justice Centres Working Group recorded 18 deaths in informal settlements from shootings, beatings, and other violence related to enforcement of COVID-19 measures. For example, on March 31, police reportedly shot 13-year-old Yassin Moyo while he was standing on the balcony of his family’s home in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi. Police officer Duncan Ndiema Ndie was charged with murder, and the case remained pending at the end of the year. On April 1, President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly apologized for police violence related to the curfew; nonetheless, reports of abuses continued.
Impunity remained a serious problem. Authorities investigated and prosecuted a number of police officers for committing killings, but there were no convictions during the year. Since its inception in 2012, IPOA investigations had led to six convictions of police officers for killings. As of November, IPOA reported it had 62 pending court cases involving police killings, with 12 cases involving police killings awaiting registration in court and 35 cases awaiting legal review by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Human rights groups also noted the government failed to provide compensation and redress to families of victims. In September several human rights groups filed a class suit against the government on behalf of victims of police brutality, including Yassin Moyo, to seek compensation for deaths and injuries resulting from police abuses during the enforcement of COVID-19 measures. The petition also called on the government to implement laws intended to address human rights violations and protect victims.
Al-Shabaab terrorists continued to conduct deadly attacks in areas close to the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. In the first two weeks of January, militants carried out five attacks killing more than a dozen persons, including three teachers and four children. In April suspected al-Shabaab militants killed six police reservists during an exchange of gunfire. In October a Nairobi court convicted two men for supporting the 2013 al-Shabaab attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, which killed 67 persons. The court sentenced the two men to 33 years and 18 years in prison, respectively, with reductions for pretrial detention bringing the terms to 26 years and 11 years, respectively.
Police failed to prevent vigilante violence in numerous instances but in other cases played a protective role (see section 6).
Observers and NGOs alleged members of the security forces and extremist groups were culpable of forced disappearances. Human rights groups noted many unlawful killings first materialized as enforced disappearances. The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported that in early April, two men and two women disappeared from the Nairobi informal settlement of Kiamaiko. Their bodies were later found in a mortuary bearing signs of torture. Later in April an activist from Kiamaiko Social Justice Centre and two companions disappeared. Their car was later found abandoned, but authorities found no trace of the men. In January, HAKI Africa released a report alleging security forces conducted 11 enforced disappearances in the coastal region in 2019.
In August, NGOs commemorated the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances and called on the government to enact a comprehensive law on enforced disappearances and investigate disappearances allegedly committed by security force members.
Media also reported on families on the coast and in northeastern counties searching for relatives who disappeared following arrest and of authorities holding individuals incommunicado for interrogation for several weeks or longer (see section 1.d.).
Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups reportedly continued to abduct civilians in areas bordering Somalia. In September suspected extremists abducted three bus passengers in Mandera County. In May al-Shabaab militants freed an Italian aid worker kidnapped in 2018.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law includes provisions to apply articles of the 2010 constitution, including: Article 25 on freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; Article 28 on respect and protection of human dignity; and Article 29 on freedom and security of the person. The law brings all state agencies and officials under one rather than multiple legislative mandates. Additionally, the law provides protections to vulnerable witnesses and officials who refuse to obey illegal orders that would lead to torture. The law also provides a basis to prosecute torture; however, the government had not instituted the regulations required to implement fully the provisions.
NGOs continued to receive reports of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment by government forces. As of October 1, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit documented 43 cases of torture and other inhuman treatment allegedly perpetrated by police during the year.
Police and prison officials reportedly used torture and violence during interrogations as well as to punish pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. According to human rights NGOs, physical battery, bondage in painful positions, and electric shock were the most common methods used by police. A range of human rights organizations and media reported police committed indiscriminate violence with impunity.
Police used excessive force in some cases when making arrests. For example, there were numerous press and NGO reports of police brutality against protesters and unarmed citizens (see sections 2 and 5), particularly related to the enforcement of COVID-19 public-health measures. Human Rights Watch reported that on March 27, police in Mombasa assaulted and used tear gas against crowds, including persons waiting for a passenger ferry, more than two hours before the start of curfew. Video clips on television and social media showed police kicking and beating individuals, including using batons, and forcing many to lie down on the ground in close quarters. Authorities introduced enhanced crowd control measures and extended ferry service hours following the incidents. On March 30, the government also issued a directive instructing employers to release employees by certain times to allow them to return home prior to curfew. The cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Interior stated authorities identified 14 police officers for disciplinary actions for misconduct during the pandemic. Amnesty International and other groups criticized the government for not releasing details of these actions.
The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported police violence was especially prevalent in informal settlements. From April 15 to May 6, monitors recorded 2,589 incidents of police violence across 182 communities. The most prevalent form of violence was beatings to disperse traders and other persons in markets after curfew. Monitors also documented incidents involving use of live ammunition, tear gas, sexual violence, and property damage.
In July, four police officers assaulted Nairobi Member of County Assembly Patricia Mutheu at Nairobi’s City Hall. Video of the incident received significant coverage in traditional and social media. IPOA reported it dispatched its rapid response team to the scene, and the investigation was pending at year’s end.
IPOA investigations led to two new convictions of police officers during the year, for a total of eight convictions since IPOA’s inception in 2012. In January the Milimani Law Courts sentenced Chief Inspector Zuhura Khan to a fine or three months in prison for neglecting to ensure a female detainee, a sexual assault victim, received appropriate medical care. In March the High Court convicted police officer Corporal Edward Wanyonyi Makokha to 20 years in prison for the attempted murder of a student in Garissa County in 2014.
Victims of police abuse may file complaints at regional police stations, police headquarters through the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), IAU hotline, and through the IPOA website and hotline. IPOA investigated allegations of excessive force that led to serious injuries, but few led to prosecutions. Police officials at times resisted investigations and detained some human rights activists who publicly registered complaints against government abuses. Authorities sometimes attributed the failure to investigate a case of police corruption or violence, including unlawful killings, to the failure of victims to file official complaints. Human rights activists reported that at times police officers in charge of taking complaints at the local level were the same ones who committed abuses. Sometimes police turned away victims who sought to file complaints at police stations where alleged police misconduct originated, directing them instead to other area stations. This created a deterrent effect on reporting complaints against police. Human rights NGOs reported police used disciplinary transfers of officers to hide their identities and frustrate investigations into their alleged crimes. Many media and civil society investigations into police abuse ended after authorities transferred officers, and police failed to provide any information about their identities or whereabouts.
In July the National Police Service, in cooperation with donors, launched the first online training course for police officers. The mandatory course, which aimed to address public order and enforcement challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, included modules on the use of force and human rights-based approaches to crowd control. In August the National Police Service began to digitize records held at police stations on incidents and complaints. Government officials stated one of the aims of the program was to reduce opportunities for police to alter or delete records and increase accountability.
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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although the government did not always respect judicial impartiality. The government sometimes undermined the independence of the judiciary and at times did not respect court orders, but the outcomes of trials did not appear to be predetermined.
In 2018 the director of public prosecutions directed anticorruption authorities to investigate the judiciary over allegations of misuse and loss of court funds. Authorities arrested Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu in 2018 for suspected corruption, but the criminal case was dismissed in May 2019. The director of public prosecutions appealed the decision and filed a petition before the Judicial Service Commission in June 2019 to remove Mwilu from office. In August the High Court ordered the commission to suspend proceedings against Mwilu pending the determination of a petition she had filed at the High Court seeking recusal of two commissioners due to alleged bias.
The Judicial Service Commission–a constitutionally mandated oversight body intended to insulate the judiciary from political pressure–provides the president with a list of nominees for judicial appointment. The president selects one of the nominees for parliamentary approval. The president appoints the chief justice and appellate and High Court judges through this process. The commission publicly reviews judicial appointees. Lawyers and civil society groups criticized the president for failing to approve nominations for 41 judges submitted in June 2019.
In January the judiciary issued the State of the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice Report for 2018-19, which noted that while the civil case backlog had declined significantly from the prior year, the criminal case backlog continued to grow. As a result, the overall case backlog grew by 3 percent compared with the prior year, to nearly 570,000 cases. Nearly 40,000 cases were pending for more than five years; however, that was a significant decline from the previous year.
The constitution gives the judiciary authority to review appointments and decisions made by other branches of government. Parliament generally adhered to judicial decisions, with some exceptions. In September the chief justice advised the president to dissolve parliament for its failure to adhere to four prior court orders directing the legislature to implement constitutional provisions mandating that no more than two-thirds of elected and appointed positions be persons of the same gender. A court temporarily suspended the chief justice’s advice pending a hearing by a judicial panel.
The law provides for qadi courts that adjudicate Muslim law on marriage, divorce, and inheritance among Muslims. There are no other traditional courts. The national courts use the traditional law of an ethnic group as a guide in personal matters, if it does not conflict with statutory law. In August the chief justice launched the Alternative Justice Systems Baseline Policy to allow for resolution of cases by traditional tribunals, while providing the formal justice system a framework to monitor implementation.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, although vulnerable individuals may give some testimony in closed session; the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to attend their trials, confront witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. The law also provides defendants the right to receive prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary, including during trials; to be tried without undue delay; to have access to government-held evidence; to be represented by an attorney of their choice or to have one appointed at the state’s expense if substantial injustice would otherwise result; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and if convicted, to appeal to or apply for review by a higher court. Authorities generally respected these rights, although they did not always promptly inform persons of the charges against them. In 2018 Chief Justice David Maraga launched the National Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms to coordinate justice sector reform. As part of these reforms, the NCAJ continued efforts to disseminate Active Case Management Guidelines to court users committees.
The NCAJ and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) continued efforts to disseminate speedy case resolution techniques to reduce case backlog and ease prison congestion. In July the ODPP published decision to charge, plea bargaining, and diversion guidelines and continued to educate prosecutors, judges, court user committees, civil society members, and others on the role of speedy resolution mechanisms in enhancing efficiency. The ODPP conducted a two-month virtual training course for prosecutors in September and October on the new guidelines and planned to expand this training to investigators and others.
Authorities generally respected a defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare a defense. The government and courts generally respected these rights. There was no government-sponsored public defenders service, and courts continued to try the vast majority of defendants without representation because they could not afford legal counsel.
By government order the judiciary suspended all but urgent operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March the judiciary commenced virtual court sessions. NGOs, including the Legal Resources Foundation, provided computers and internet connectivity to enable remandees to connect with courts virtually. Most litigants, however, did not have the ability to participate in the virtual court sessions, and many cases could not proceed to trial because witnesses lacked the ability to connect with the courts virtually.
The National Legal Aid Service facilitates access to justice, with the goal of providing pro bono services for indigent defendants who cannot afford legal representation. Other pro bono legal aid was available only in major cities where some human rights organizations, notably the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya, an NGO, provided services. The Prisons Service collaborated with various paralegal organizations such as Kituo Cha Sheria, Legal Resources Foundation Trust, and Africa Prisons Project to establish justice centers within prisons to facilitate delivery of legal aid. Pretrial detainees also received instructions on how to self-represent in court. Government-established special committees, which included paralegals and prison officials, also served to increase prisoners’ access to the judicial system. NGOs noted no single system provides “primary justice” to prisoners and detainees, who instead relied on a patchwork of services largely provided by NGOs.
Discovery laws are not clearly defined, handicapping defense lawyers. Implementation of a High Court ruling requiring provision of written statements to the defense before trial remained inconsistent. Defense lawyers often did not have access to government-held evidence before a trial. There were reports the government sometimes invoked the Official Secrets Act as a basis for withholding evidence.
Defendants may appeal a verdict to the High Court and ultimately to the Court of Appeal and, for some matters, to the Supreme Court.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
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:
Freedom of Association
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. NGOs continued to express concerns regarding reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. Human rights groups noted activists continued to face increased attacks in a climate of impunity. In June the Mathare Social Justice Centre condemned a visit by police officers, including one allegedly linked to extrajudicial killings, to intimidate and harass its staff.
There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers were dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights.
The law requires every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the Registrar of Societies. The law requires NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research to register with the NGO Coordination Board. It also requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.
Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the 2013 Public Benefits Organization Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities, the act had not been implemented by year’s end.
In 2019 parliament passed an amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Act that empowered the National Counter Terrorism Center to become an “approving and reporting institution for all civil society organizations and international NGOs engaged in preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization through counter messaging or public outreach, and disengagement and reintegration of radicalized individuals.” Civil society leaders expressed concerns the broad language of the amendment may allow government authorities to exert undue oversight and control over the activities of NGOs. A court case filed by a consortium of civil society leaders against the amendment continued to proceed through legal channels.
c. Freedom of Religion
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.
g. Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for the protection of stateless persons and for legal avenues for eligible stateless persons to apply for citizenship. Since 2017 UNHCR estimated 18,500 stateless persons were registered in the country; the actual number was unknown.
Communities known to UNHCR as stateless include the Pemba in Kwale (approximately 7,000) and the Shona (an estimated 3,500). The 8,000 remaining include: persons of Rwandan, Burundian, or Congolese descent; some descendants of slaves from Zambia and Malawi; the Galjeel, who were stripped of their nationality in 1989; and smaller groups at risk of statelessness due to their proximity to the country’s border with Somalia and Ethiopia, including the Daasanach and returnees from Somalia (the Sakuye) residing in Isiolo. The Pare are a group of people intermarried with Kenyans for many years who reside at the border with Tanzania but are at risk of statelessness since they do not hold marriage certificates or other identity documents. Children born in the country to British overseas citizens are stateless due to conflicting nationality laws in the country and in the United Kingdom, although the estimated affected population size is unknown.
The country’s legislation provides protection, limited access to some basic services, and documentation to stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness. The constitution contains a progressive bill of rights and a revised chapter on citizenship, yet it does not include any safeguards to prevent statelessness at birth. The law provides a definition of a stateless person and opportunities for such a person as well as his or her descendants to be registered as citizens so long as the individual was a resident in the country at the time of its independence. Similar provisions apply to some categories of migrants who do not possess identification documents. These provisions were in the process of being revised as of October.
Stateless persons had limited legal protection, and many faced social exclusion. Others encountered travel restrictions and heightened vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, forced displacement, and other abuses. UNHCR reported stateless persons faced restrictions on internal movement and limited access to basic services, property ownership, and registration of births under the late birth registration procedures, marriages, and deaths. Inadequate documentation sometimes resulted in targeted harassment and extortion by officials and exploitation in the informal labor sector.
National registration policies require citizens age 18 and older to obtain national identification documents from the National Registration Bureau. Failure to do so is a crime. Groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries faced higher burdens of proof in the registration process. During the participatory assessments UNHCR conducted in 2018 and 2019, stateless persons said they could not easily register their children at birth or access birth certificates because they lacked supporting documents.
Due to awareness raising among the stateless and capacity building for relevant authorities, towards the end of 2019 the situation improved for stateless persons, who were no longer turned away from registration offices as occurred in prior years. For birth registration within six months of birth, stateless persons were able to obtain a birth certificate but had problems registering children older than six months. The law does not have a provision to support the registration without supporting documents and instead gives discretion to the registrar general.
Formal employment opportunities, access to financial services, and freedom of movement continued to be out of reach due to lack of national identity cards. Stateless persons without identity cards cannot access the National Hospital Insurance Fund, locking them out of access to subsidized health services, including maternity coverage.
In October 2019 the government pledged to recognize and register persons in the Shona community who had lived in the country since the 1960s. The Civil Registration Services Department began to issue birth certificates to Shona children and process birth certificates for Shona adults who were born in the country.