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New Kenyan law supports internally displaced people's access to information

A child walks back to an IDP camp in the Rift Valley, Kenya, 8 August 2010.
A child walks back to an IDP camp in the Rift Valley, Kenya, 8 August 2010.

Demotix/Tobin Jones

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - ARTICLE 19 welcomes a comprehensive law on internal displacement in Kenya that includes vital provisions to secure the participation of displaced people in decision-making that affects them. The law addresses key shortfalls in protection for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the country, which ARTICLE 19 has long campaigned for. The law came into force weeks before the country's general election, amid concerns that further violence could lead to more internal displacement in the country.

“Through our work we have witnessed the damaging impact of neglecting to recognize the right for IDPs to participate in and receive information about the decisions that affect them most. Information is vital if people are to be empowered to assert their basic rights” said Henry Maina, Director, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

ARTICLE 19 has been working with IDPs in Kenya to give them the tools necessary to demand information from government so that they are able to assert their rights to health care, education, food and housing.

“This is something that has been greatly lacking and that we have campaigned hard for. Information is crucial if IDPs are to have their voices heard and become the engineers of change themselves, [rather than passive recipients of aid]. The onus is now on the government to give life to this law and make real their promise to improve the situation of some of the most vulnerable people in the country” added Maina.

The Prevention, Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and Affected Communities Act was passed on 31 December 2012 and came into effect on the 18th January 2013.

Crucial gains secured in law include:

-A human rights approach to displacement and primary responsibility on the government to protect the rights of IDPs.

-The creation of the National Consultative Coordination Committee as a focal point for protection and assistance, including with clear information gathering functions.

-Recognition for the rights of IDPs to documentation, which is crucial in ensuring that IDPs can prove their status and receive the necessary protection and assistance.

-Recognition of the rights of IDPs to participate in public affairs and in the formulation of policies and the making of decisions that affect them during displacement. Special account must also be taken of the needs of women, children and people living with special needs.

-Requirements for the government to raise public awareness around internal displacement, including education and information campaigns and other key issues which affect IDPs.

-Requirements that where people are to be displaced by development projects, their full and informed consent must first be sought.
The Act criminalises the arbitrary displacement of people and sets out clear mechanisms by which IDPs can access effective assistance to protect their fundamental human rights.

“This is a significant milestone. Internal displacement is a serious and recurring issue in Kenya, where politically instigated ethnic violence has created waves of internal displacement around every election held in the country for more than two decades” said Maina.

The Act was given effect just weeks before another general election in the country where significant concerns remain about further violence and displacement.

There were an estimated 250,000 IDPs in Kenya in 2011, an additional 118,000 were displaced in 2012 as a result of inter-communal and resource based violence.

An estimated 26.4 million persons are internally displaced globally as a result of armed conflict and rampant human rights violations. 9.7 million IDPs are found in sub Saharan Africa alone.

The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa came into force on 6 December 2012, following its ratification by fifteen African countries, and represents clear progress on this issue.

However, Kenya is now only the second country in Africa after Angola to have adopted a specific legal framework for the protection and assistance of IDPs.

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