Status: Civil society or public discussion

In Kenya, there is no clear policy or legislation to protect human rights defenders (HRDs). Despite many actors advocating for a stronger protection of HRDs, as well as hopeful promises made by the government, no concrete steps have been taken to implement new policies.

No official policy exists to protect Human Rights Defenders. Some applaud the importance of human rights standards in Kenya’s 2010 Constitution, which protects relevant basic rights like the right to demonstrate, but in practice, this right is not strongly enforced (Mutethia, 2020).

The African Commission also offers a monitoring mechanism for the situation and safety of Human Rights Defenders through a separate Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders for Africa. In Kenya, however, no concrete policy proposals have followed from this mechanism, nor has any report on the situation of HRDs in Kenya been issued. The UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor has requested a country visit to examine the situation in Kenya, but has received no response yet.

Following the 2019 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Kenya supported several recommendations to improve the protection of HRDs, including taking steps to ensure proper investigation into attacks against HRDs, uphold freedom of expression of human rights defenders, ensure the safety of human rights defenders and adopt comprehensive legislation on the protection of human rights defenders.

Important progress has been made by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya (NCHRD-K) and other Civil Society Organisations. This includes several reports[1], and most importantly the KNHRC Model HRD Policy and Action Plan in May of 2017. This policy provides a framework for the protection of HRDs, accompanied by an action plan that identifies the priority areas on safeguarding the rights of HRDs. KNCHR has continued to advocate for adoption of this policy, but no steps have yet been taken towards its implementation.

Kenya is ranked by the Civicus monitor as “obstructed”, which means that civic space is heavily contested by power holders” and is scored “partly free” by the Freedom House democracy index, scoring particularly low on Political Rights. This is mainly due to that fact that since 2013, the government has been limiting HRDs capacity through an amendment of the Security Law in late December 2014. Although this Amendment focuses on countering terrorism, it is used by the government to limit the capacity of HRDs and civil society actors. The current administration has been portraying HRDs as a threat, framing them as terrorist sympathisers and security risks (NCHRD-K, 2016).

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[1] Namely Champions of Rights: A Report on the situation of Human Rights Defenders in Busia, Kwale and Marasabit Counties (2015), the Self-Representation Manual for Human Rights Defenders (2015), the Report on the Status of HRDs in Conflict with the Law (2016) and a “Report on Gender Audit of the Situation of Women and other Vulnerable Human Rights Defenders in Kenya.” (2017).


Civicus monitor: Kenya.

Freedom House Democracy Index: Kenya.

Kenya’s Constitution of 2010.

Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) (2017). Model Human Rights Defenders Policy and Action Plan.

Mutethia, K. (2020) The Constitutional Context of Human Rights Defenders in Kenya under the 2010 Constitution. Available at SSRN: or

National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya (NCHRD-K) (2016), Double edged sword: a trends report and case digest on human rights defenders and the law in Kenya.

Parliament of Kenya (2014). Security Laws (amendment) Act.

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21: Kenya. A/HRC/WG.6/35/KEN/1 (2019, November 11).

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). UPR of Kenya, 3rd cycle, 35th session: Thematic list of recommendations. Download here.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), Country visits: special rapporteur on human rights defenders.

[Updated on 17/03/2022]


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