On 11th February 2021, Camellia announced to its shareholders and traders that it would spend up to Kshs. 694 million to settle individual claims as well as pay legal fees for claims of gross human rights violations committed by Kakuzi security guards. These claims had been lodged in the London High Court by Leigh Day, a leading UK law firm that partnered with KHRC and NRC to bring the suit against Camellia. The UK suit comprised of 85 claimants who live around Kakuzi, with claims ranging from killing(s), assault and rape in the hands of Kakuzi guards.

Locally and in its suit, Kakuzi is alleging that KHRC and NRC have violated its right to a fair trial under Article 50 of the Constitution and that the statement issued on February 14th is untrue and that it has damaged Kakuzi’s reputation and that of its shareholders and partners. Kakuzi is seeking to compel the KHRC and NRC to withdraw the press statement and issue a public apology.

It is outrageous for Kakuzi to allege that the two organisations have violated its right to a fair trial. The right to a fair trial under Article 50 refers to trial before a court or tribunal. Kakuzi’s allegation that KHRC and NRC have denied the company this right is thus grossly misguided.

Additionally, both KHRC and Ndula Resource Centre have instituted a number of judicial and non-judicial approaches to seek redress for communities and workers impacted by land rights violations, severe human rights and labour rights abuses. Kakuzi has oftentimes thwarted the attempts by the KHRC and NRC to get justice for victims who have reported to the two organisations about harm caused by Kakuzi guards over the years. In 2018, for instance, Kakuzi-impacted communities, with the support of KHRC and NRC, successfully filed an application before the National Land Commission (NLC) seeking restoration of their land. Instead of Kakuzi engaging these communities to find a durable solution with regard to the claims raised, the company rushed to court challenging the mandate of the NLC to determine historical land injustices. The result of this move is that an award given by the NLC in favour of the communities remains in abeyance. Specifically, the NLC directed that all public utilities sitting on Kakuzi land be surrendered back to the county and national governments and that all public roads closed by Kakuzi be opened for access by the community.

The claims by Kakuzi that the facts in the KHRC/NRC statement are untrue is ridiculous when indeed Camellia’s staggering settlement was with regard to human rights violations instigated by Kakuzi security guards. In fact, Camellia pointed in its statement that the settlement is intended not only to resolve the claims themselves, but also to help Kakuzi to strengthen its relations with the local communities.

Further and following the settlement by Camellia, Kakuzi instituted a raft of reparative measures which included (1) funding of charcoal kilns and access to firewood for the local communities to produce and sell charcoal, (2) building two social centres, (3) employing safety marshalls, (4) building three new roads of motorable access by the community without any requirement to obtain a licence from the company as was previously the case (5)  establishing of a Technical Working Group to survey and demarcate land which has been previously donated by the company, and (6) designing and implementing a human rights defenders policy. These measures were not instituted as part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. They were part of a desperate attempt by Kakuzi to restore its UK market lost in the wake of media reports on Kakuzi’s nefarious behaviour towards its host community and workers.

Based on the foregoing, the statement issued by KHRC and NRC remains accurate reporting and fair comment on the character of Kakuzi. The issues raised by the two organisations are in the public domain and have been well documented by local and international media over the years.

The KHRC and NRC strongly believe that Kakuzi’s course of action, if any, lies in a libel court. Theirs is a libel case camouflaged as a constitutional petition. The suit lacks specificity and is thus a waste of the courts’ time.

The KHRC and NRC are acutely aware that the suit by Kakuzi is a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) intended to intimidate the two organisations. Kakuzi’s main aim is to burden the KHRC and NRC with legal costs and to undermine and scuttle advocacy against injustices it is accused of committing. The intended result is to cause KHRC and Ndula Resource Centre to abandon their activism against the company by stifling their right to freedom of expression. The two organisations are confident that this suit will be seen for what it is – frivolous litigation whose main intention is to harass and muzzle human rights defenders.

Finally, the KHRC and NRC reiterate their commitment to continue supporting the communities and workers adversely impacted by Kakuzi. Both organisations will remain resolute in the face of the SLAPP suit and will fight it to the letter. We shall, therefore, not relent our advocacy on the pending issues outlined in our February 14th statement and we hereby DEMAND as follows:

  1. That the Murang’a County Assembly ensures that Kakuzi land leases are not renewed until all claims on historical land injustices are resolved.
  2. That the UK market sustains the current boycott of Kakuzi produce until all pending claims are addressed. We will further initiate an engagement with other Kakuzi markets to boycott any produce coming from Kakuzi until there is demonstrable change in attitude and behaviour on the part of Kakuzi.
  3. That the national Parliament and the Senate immediately investigate Kakuzi on all the pending claims and institute appropriate accountability measures against the company.
  4. That the National Land Commission implements forthwith, its decision of February 2019 directing the surrender by Kakuzi of ALL public utilities on its land including schools, markets, police stations, hospitals, public roads of access, wayleaves and easements to national and county government as appropriate.

WE SHALL continuously monitor the behaviour of Kakuzi to ensure non-repetition of violations and non-discrimination of workers and communities.

WE SHALL also expose the company for coming after human rights defenders both at the community level and the organizational level.

Signed:

  1. Kenya Human Rights Commission.
  2. Ndula Resource Centre.