Kenya law would block aid for HIV drugs, rape and torture victims-agencies

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 28 November 2013 16:23 GMT

Woven polythene baskets, made by women living with HIV/AIDS, ready to be shipped to Canada at the community-based Mirror of Hope, funded by UNESCO-Kenya, in Nairobi's Kibera slum. Picture taken April 23, 2013 REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

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Kenyan bill capping foreign aid to Kenyan NGOs, which could become law within a week, will damage the economy and hit many of the country's most vulnerable people, critics say.

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Kenyan government plans to cap foreign donor funding would cut off services to the most vulnerable people – those living with HIV/AIDS, victims of rape and torture and prisoners who cannot afford legal representation, NGOs and aid agencies said on Thursday.

The Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2013, published on Oct. 30, will, if passed, cap the foreign funding of non-governmental organisations (NGO) at 15 percent of their budgets.

Critics of the bill say the government is using it to silence human rights groups which have collected evidence from victims of Kenya’s 2007/08 post-election violence. The International Criminal Court is trying President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with large-scale violence at that time.

The bill received its second reading in parliament on Wednesday and will be debated by a parliamentary committee on Friday. Parliament could pass the bill into law before it goes into recess on Dec. 5, agencies said.

“These amendments are going to be harmful to all public benefit organisations,” Peter Kiama, executive director of the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, an NGO which supports victims of torture, told a news briefing.

“They would take away resources from a sector that supports 20 million Kenyans, whether in service delivery or, increasingly, protecting our democratic space.”

The NGO sector, mostly foreign funded, contributes 152 billion Kenya shillings ($1.7 billion) a year to the economy and employs 290,000 people, the agencies said.

VICTIMS OF TORTURE

Around half of Kenya’s health services are provided by NGOs and faith-based groups, which also support government hospitals and clinics.

“If you go to Kenyatta National Hospital, the post rape care one-stop shop has been set up with almost 100 percent support from NGOs,” said Kiama, referring to the government’s largest referral hospital.

Kenya has the world’s fourth largest HIV positive population, numbering about 1.2 million. Some 80 percent of its funding for drugs and testing comes from external sources.

Kiama also singled out victims of torture and prisoners as likely to suffer if the bill becomes law.

“We do have, every year, about 500 Kenyans who fall victim to torture and ill treatment by police officers. The support they get, 100 percent of it, in terms of physical, medical rehabilitation, psychological, social rehabilitation, comes from NGOs,” he said.

NGO funding enables around 100 paralegals – people with basic legal training but no licence to practice law – to help prisoners who cannot afford a lawyer to prepare their petitions or their pleadings in court.

Seventy percent of defendants in Kenya have no legal representation in court. Only those facing capital charges, such as murder, receive legal aid from the state. 

“We have about 55,000 inmates in our prisons, over 50 percent being people on remand, people who are poor, can’t afford cash bail, can’t afford to be bonded, and they are in those prisons because they are poor,” said Kiama. “This (paralegal help) is a service that we are going to lose if these particular amendments are passed as proposed.”

Without paralegals, prisoners would have no chance of a fair trial as they are not aware of the procedure and substance of the law and cannot represent themselves adequately.

In a recent editorial in The Standard newspaper, prominent lawyer Kethi Kilonzo wrote: “Parliament should take care not to throw away the baby with the bath water. By attempting to regulate non-profit organisations perceived to be engaged in political activism in the country, Parliament may unwittingly temper the benefits of organisations that only seek to improve the economic and social lot of Kenyans challenged by poverty.”

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