Kenyan officials "violated with impunity" the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement during an operation to resettle people displaced by post-election violence early this year, human rights activists have said.
"Kenya has no specific policy on internal displacement; it has no domestic law on protection and resettlement of IDPs [internally displaced persons]," Ndungu Wainaina, executive director for the International Centre for Conflict and Policy, a Kenyan non-governmental think-tank “committed to transitional justice”, told IRIN.
He said the Guiding Principles were mostly applied ad-hoc during Operation Rudi Nyumbani [Return Home], launched by the government in May to resettle hundreds of thousands of IDPs mainly in the Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces.
Wainaina said Kenya was yet to apply the protocols it signed under the Great Lakes Process - a set of 10 agreed upon by countries in the Horn, East and Central Africa which, among other issues, provide for the protection and assistance to IDPs as well as the property rights of returning persons.
|We want to celebrate Christmas this year with all the displaced having left the camps|
However, Ali Mohamed, permanent secretary in the ministry charged with handling of IDP affairs, the Ministry of State for Special Programmes, said on 15 October that the government "applied every letter and spirit" of the Guiding Principles during the recent resettlement of IDPs in the country.
"The rights of the displaced are provided for in other laws in place, such as those on human rights," Mohamed said. "The Guiding Principles have been crucial in our activities; we have been practising and using them in areas such as the rights of IDPs to their property, to safe and voluntary return."
Contrary to claims by human rights activists that some IDPs were forced out of camps, Mohamed said the government ensured that the displaced left the camps voluntarily.
"The Guiding Principles emphasise the right to protection and shelter and this has been our stand; we want to celebrate Christmas this year with all the displaced having left the camps," he said.
"Up until now, the government has been fully cognisant of the UN's Guiding Principles and has circulated them among its human rights agencies, law enforcement agencies as well as other partners involved in the resettlement of IDPs… For instance, a copy of the Guiding Principles is available in every district commissioner’s office in Rift Valley Province."
Mohamed added that all district commissioners as well as senior government officials in the provincial authority had undergone training on the application of the Guiding Principles.
The government and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Kenya) launched on 15 October the Swahili version of the Guiding Principles.
The principles - first set out in 1998 - underscore the rights of IDPs as they are not protected under the Refugee Convention. Since their launch, several governments have developed laws and policies on internal displacement based on the Guiding Principles.
In 2007, the UN estimated the number of people displaced within their countries by armed conflicts and violence to be more than 26 million, with Africa hosting almost half of them - 12.7 million - and generating nearly half of the world’s newly displaced (1.6 million).
Mohamed said: "There are attempts, at the regional level, to domesticate the protocols of the Great Lakes Process. Once this is done, then Kenya will domesticate these protocols," Mohamed said.
Human rights commission
Fatma Ibrahim, a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said although the government had greatly helped the IDPs who fled their homes in January and February, "Operation Rudi Nyumbani" left a lot to be desired.
"In our own assessment, we do agree that, yes, the government has done some good work in providing food, medical aid and financial assistance to some of the displaced, but in terms of their resettlement, we feel that the poor involvement of the IDPs in a substantive way weakens the application of the UN's Guiding Principles."
She said gaps remained in the dissemination of information to IDPs on their rights, which the Guiding Principles specify.
"They IDPs feel they were not adequately consulted on the resettlement process; those remaining in camps are not clear about their entitlement; there seems to be insufficient information to the IDPs on what is available and what they are entitled to; our assessment found that there was little information-sharing in this regard."
Ibrahim said the government had used only public rallies, known as `barazas’, to inform the IDPs of their rights.
"This way of disseminating information is weak, the heavy-handedness from the provincial authorities in some instances, such as giving deadlines for the displaced to leave camps, and the lack of substantive participation of the IDPs in the process, were in violation of the Guiding Principles," she said.
She said the government should adhere to the standards provided for in the Guiding Principles and in international humanitarian law in the resettlement of IDPs.
Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|Aeneas Chuma, the UN Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator shakes hands with an IDP during a tour of Rift Valley|
"When the government closes a camp yet some IDPs remain at the camp or gives a three-day deadline for the IDPs to leave the camp, the question is, why close the camps? Doesn't this mean the displaced are being forced out of these camps?" Ibrahim said.
UN humanitarian coordinator
Aeneas Chuma, the Kenya UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, said on 15 October that displacement does not end with the return home of the displaced. It ends "when particular needs and vulnerabilities linked to the displacement are resolved, and not always with return”.
Chuma said: "For these people [IDPs] and for those who have not yet returned, continued assistance and support is required to find durable solutions.”