In Kenya, thousands of civil society organizations are opposing extremist ideologies, protecting LGBT rights, and delivering a plethora of other critical services. The Public Benefit Organizations (PBO) Act, which was signed into law in 2013 but has not yet been implemented, aims to support and sustain these groups. However, recently proposed amendments would limit PBOs’ access to funding from international donors among other restrictive provisions.
Late in 2014, the Government of Kenya established a multi-stakeholder Task Force on Proposed Amendments to the PBO Act. On March 19, the Task Force invited ICNL to its Experts Forum to share an analysis of international law, comparative examples, and best practices with respect to civil society regulation. ICNL emphasized three main themes around in its presentation to the Task Force:
- Government Oversight of Civil Society: According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, any restriction on the freedom of association must pass a high standard of necessity and proportionality. However, the draft amendments would grant the government unlimited power to restrict PBOs. Such restrictions are impermissible under international law.
- Government Support for and Engagement with Civil Society: Recognizing that government support to civil society is critical to the sector’s effectiveness, the PBO Act adheres to a number of best practices in this area. For example, the Act aims to engage PBOs in policymaking and provide government funding. However, the draft amendments would delete these beneficial provisions.
- Access to Funding for Civil Society: According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to freedom of association includes the ability to seek, receive, and use resources from domestic, foreign, and international sources. However, the amendments would seek to limit the amount of funding that Kenyan PBOs could receive from abroad.
In its presentation, ICNL described similarly restrictive legislation from Russia and Ethiopia, which have had devastating effects on independent civil society.
ICNL is awaiting the Task Force report and remains committed to supporting the creation of an enabling environment for civil society in Kenya.
For more information on NGO law in Kenya, see the Civic Freedom Monitor.
Click here to read ICNL’s full statement to the Task Force.