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UN experts urge Kenya to protect environmental defenders

GENEVA (30 May 2018) - The Kenyan Government must urgently take measures to protect defenders who have faced harassment and intimidation after they testified against a local lead smelter accused of environmental pollution, UN human rights experts* say.

Cases of lead poisoning have been reported in the area near the smelter.

Alfred Ogola, Wilfred Kamencu, Anastacia Nambo and Kavumbi Munga and several others have been subjected to threats following the first hearing against the plant on 17 May. They are due to testify again in a class action lawsuit against the Government and the lead smelter for violating the right to a healthy environment guaranteed under Article 42 of the Constitution of Kenya.

“Unknown people have visited their homes at night repeatedly banging on their doors, yelling at them to come out of their house,” the experts said. “One of them had been attacked with an unknown substance which caused eye problems and swelling.

“It is unacceptable that they are repeatedly threatened, harassed, intimidated and assaulted and no one has been held accountable.”

This is the third time UN experts have called on the Government to protect and promote the rights of the environmentalists. The UN experts officially relayed their concerns to the Government in 2014, 2017 and again last week. The Government has not responded on any occasion.

“The Government should urgently launch a proper investigation and bring those who are responsible to justice,” the experts said.

Many of them have reported these threats to police, the experts said, however investigations appear slow and inadequate. The defenders fear for their safety and life, and are seeking for help to be relocated.

“These environmental defenders should not face threats, harassment, and intimidation when they are exercising their rights legitimately through a legal action. On the contrary, they should be championed for upholding the Constitution of Kenya,” the experts said.


(*) Mr. John H. KnoxSpecial Rapporteur on human rights and the environmentMr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersMr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry, Chair of UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Soo-Young Hwang +41 22 917 9267 / shwang@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact
Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightswww.standup4humanrights.org.