What was Kenya like in 1991? Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia and RailaOdinga were in prison, detained without trial. Several other leading Kenyans were in exile. It was only three years after Kanu, then the only legal political party, had held nominations for Parliament using the infamous queue voting system.

  1. Five of the Kenyans in exile – Prof Makau Mutua, Mr Maina Kiai, Dr Willy Mutunga, Hon Kiraitu Murungi and Prof Peter Kareithi – formed the Kenya Human Rights Commission and registered it in Washington DC in 1991.
  2. One of the founders was despatched to Kenya to operate from the offices of Kuria, Ringera and Murungi Advocates. The KHRC was later hosted by the Kituo cha Sheria before moving to South B Estate, and to its current location on Gitanga Road in Valley Arcade.
  3. Between 1992 and 1997, the KHRC focused on monitoring, documenting and publicizing human rights violations. It applied a direct attack on political despotism. Through direct action protests and support to victims and survivors of violations, the organisation established itself as an advocate for civil and political rights in Kenya, by linking human rights struggles with the need for reforms in political leadership and institutions.
  4. From 1998 to 2003, KHRC expanded its advocacy strategy to include social and economic rights in order to attack economic despotism. We made a radical shift in approach that led us to begin developing capabilities of those affected by human rights problems to advocate for their rights. It invested in community based Human Rights Education (HRE) and shifted its advocacy approach from ‘reactive, one-off’ activism to more nuanced processes, participation of those affected by specific human rights violations and targeted reforms at policy and legislative levels.
  5. It developed its first Strategic Plan for the period 1999-2003 whose thrust was to develop competencies at community level for citizens to identify and deal with human rights violations, without depending on the previous interventionist orientation.
  6. The 2003-2007 Strategic Plan focused on strategies and actions aimed at enhancing community-driven human rights advocacy by building the capacities of citizens to deal with their immediate human rights concerns as well as engage in strategic actions to transform structures responsible for human rights violations. During this phase, it focused on rights related to trade, business, investment, natural resources, labour and sexual and reproductive health.
  7. In 2008-2012, KHRC expanded the impact of its work to play an active role in procuring citizen-led reforms towards a more just, democratic and human rights-respecting Kenyan society. With the Constitution of Kenya, 2010,KHRC sees a normative framework for the kind of society it wishes to see, but recognised that it is facing a serious threat of being sabotaged because of the ascension to power of those opposed to it.
  8. A majority of the first commissioners at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights were from KHRC. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), established in the wake of the post-election violence of 2008,was a brainchild of KHRC. Chief Justice Willy Mutunga is a founder and former director of KHRC. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Mr Maina Kiai, is the KHRC founder director and now member of the board; while the current UN Special Rapporteur on Xenophobia, Dr Mutuma Ruteere, also worked at the KHRC.

This latest strategic plan comes at a time of transition in Kenya.  The promulgation of a new Constitution of Kenya in August 2010 ushered in a devolved governance structure, a bicameral parliament, the establishment of several constitutional commissions and institutional changes.

There is also a new political order following the March 2013 general election, the first elections held under the new constitution. The elections resulted in the ascension to power of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, both of whom are facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. New electoral seats were also created by the constitution: governors and County Representatives (for County Governments), women’s representatives in the National Assembly and senators in the Senate.

The birth of a new constitution, Constitution of Kenya (2010) one of the hallmarks of which is a strong Bill of Rights, is but one of the many democratic gains that the KHRC has contributed to in the last two decades.

KHRC has triumphed in two significant historical injustices cases:

    • KHRC identified Nyayo House torture victims, created a network for them and facilitated litigation leading to their compensation and obtained a court order to preserve Nyayo House chambers as part of national memory.
    • And In June, 2013, through its work in partnership with the MAU MAU War Veterans’ Association, the British Government made a statement of regret for the torture suffered during the independence struggle in Kenya; entered into a settlement for over 5,000 victims of torture; and setting up a memorial in honour of victims of torture.

Also in 2013 the KHRC won a case requiring the Kenyan Government to consult with citizens and small scale farmers’ organisations in negotiating economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with the EU and other stake holders.