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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Impunity for mass rights violations risks global gains and human security

Justice seekers Benna and Zarina passed away within hours of each other. Rest in Power!
Left: Benna "Mama Victor" Buluma and Right: Zarina Patel

Benna Buluma was not killed by raging floods. The Mathare based leader was killed by the lack of dignified housing, urban planning and misgovernance. This and the recent release of the global state of human rights report must trigger us to rethink how to future proof Kenya, Africa, and the world.


Benna founded the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network after her two sons were unlawfully killed by police officers during the 2017 electoral violence. Her boldness gave many who were affected by extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances the courage to speak up and demand justice. Her body was recovered from a submerged house this week.


Benna did not die alone. By Thursday, at least 46 people had drowned, 29,370 households were homeless, and 55 displacement camps had been set up across 27 out of Kenya’s 47 counties. Tragically, this week’s climate emergency is not the first for Kenya or the world. The release of Amnesty International 2023/2024 State of the World’s Human Rights report this week is highly significant.


The Kenya report is the first scorecard on the Kenya Kwanza government. The African Regional report provides AUC Chairperson candidates Kenya’s Raila Odinga and Djibouti’s Ali Youssouf with human rights analysis and agenda to lead from. Lastly, the report offers new ideas for 193 states groping towards a new vision for multi-lateralism, international human rights standards and a sustainable world before the UN Summit for the Future in September.


Russian aggression against Ukraine, the relentless bombing of the Palestinian people by Israeli and conflicts in Sudan, Ethiopia and Myanmar have punctured any remaining vestige of public confidence in an international system that will protect human beings against massive violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.


More encouragingly, millions marched and petitioned for peace, housing, reproductive health and against fossil fuels and corruption in most regions in the world. Their passionate protests exposed the manipulation of United Nations mechanisms, diplomatic double speak and disregard for civilian lives by the most powerful nations in the world.


Generative artificial intelligence expanded the dangers of algorithm based big data systems, mass surveillance technology and unregulated social media platforms in ways that were unthinkable even three years ago.


Kenya experienced eight systemic challenges. Rising living costs, punitive taxes, and mandatory contributions plunged most into economic distress. Education and health were acutely squeezed by Kenya’s obligations to creditors, corruption, and extravagance.


While extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances dropped 15.8% from 2022, brutal protest policing possibly took the police back seven years to the post-election violence off 2017. 2023 saw the greatest spike in hate speech and hate crimes against persons from sexual minorities in a generation. Environmental policies confusingly swung from lifting logging and genetically modified agriculture bans to reforestation and carbon markets initiatives.

Remarkable progress was made to digitise 5,000 government services. The WorldCoin scandal and e-Citizen cyber-attack among others demonstrated the urgency for secure, privacy by design public digital systems. Lastly, despite studies showing that the death penalty is less popular among the public and no longer a deterrent for violent criminals, the Government failed for another year, to legally abolish it.


Kenya and the world are at an inflection point. Another year of flagrant violations and rule-breaking by powerful states could drill the last of nails into the coffin of the United Nations and other regional inter-governmental agencies.

In two weeks, 4,000 civil society organisations will be in Nairobi for the 8-9 May United Nations Civil Society conference. They must focus on designing a new global pact that stops impunity, protects fundamental rights, holds states accountable and breathes new life into the multi-lateral system and national governments.


Elder Zarina Patel calmly slipped away from illness this week. The late author and activist would remind us that tinkering with global capitalism, gross inequalities and autocratic governance practises offers no solution to the problems billions face.

Citizens, social movements, and their allies in governments and elsewhere must find more radical strategies or watch a generation of progress perish.

This opinion was also published in the Saturday Standard 27 April 2024

You can read the Amnesty International 2023/2024 report here


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