Social Justice Centre Working Group (SJCWG) meeting with Andrew Gilmour: Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

On May 13 2019 Social Justice Centre Working Group representatives met with Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and head of OHCHR in Nairobi Marcella Favretto. They met at MSJC, and also in attendance were families of victims of extrajudicial killings.

Overview of the Discussion:

  • MSJC members explained the history, development and recent growth of the Social Justice Centre Movement.
  • Brief summary of the movement’s aims and current work being undertaken locally.
  • Andrew Gilmour presented with MSJC’s most recent reports – “Maji Ni Haki” and “Who Is Next?”
  • Successes mentioned, including – the recent conviction of police officers in Ruaraka and the new women-led Kayole Social Justice Centre.
  • Social Justice Centres in attendance identified and Social Justice Centres Working Group structure explained.
  • Main challenges explained, including – threats of violence against Social Justice Centre volunteers, lack of government action, youth stereotyping and the criminalization of poverty.

Main requests put forward (for action by the UN):

  • Capacity Building (5 year plans are not enough – new centres need funding and scholarships for young, local activists would ensure sustainability)
  • Protection for Volunteers (too many volunteers have been lost – an effective protection mechanism is needed since the current process takes weeks and members end up paying out of their pockets for protection)
  • Connection with UN Agencies (there is a disconnect between agencies and grass roots organisations – agencies need to be active on the ground in cooperation with social justice centres and centres need greater representation and access to agencies)
  • Support for Families of Victims (victims’ families are champions of change – they educate people, activate the community and seek justice, so must be supported, for example by providing them with lawyers and protecting them when they attend court, as well as providing sustainable support for them in other ways)
  • Saba Saba Partnership (UN support would give the Social Justice Centre movement a greater platform at Saba Saba March 2019)

During the discussion, there was also a personal account by Mama Victor (coordinator of mother’s of victims of extrajudicial killing) of her struggles. There was also the introduction of other family members of victims and the financial, psychological and legal challenges they face. Furthermore, examples were given of cases being taken to court and the ineffective nature of IPOA discussed. Further discussion about general challenges faced by social justice centres and the lack of cooperation between grass roots social justice centres, UN agencies and embassies, who only fund mainstream organisations.

Questions asked by Andrew Gilmour:

Is there local support for extrajudicial killings? How does the community and public view petty crime?

  • Constant community dialogue has won over the communities’ support for the work of social justice centres in opposition to extrajudicial killings.
  • Discussions about youth profiling and criminalisation of poverty has educated people in the community.
  • Regarding the general public, the government justifies the police’s actions as being due to instability within informal settlements. This view is accepted by many people.
  • Social justice centres also had to hold meetings with the media to prevent the spread of negative perceptions among the public, following the killing of 11 people in three weeks in Dandora.

Is the police force recruited from the same communities suffering from extrajudicial killings?

  • Yes, partially, but police officers are often stationed in other areas very far from their own communities.
  • Unfortunately, once a “killer cop” comes under a lot of pressure in a certain community, or is convicted, another replaces him. This rotation of“killer cops” is very evident.

Does Rashid wear plain clothes?

  • Yes, but everyone knows his face, as well as those of other “killer cops” in the various other communities.
  • However, the government denies knowing these police officers exist.

What dialogue is there between social justice centres and the police?

  • Social justice centres have raised issues with the local police and even with the government cabinet.
  • They say they will follow up various issues but fail to, also claiming that issues are being exaggerated.
  • In fact, the police post MSJC meetings, statements and volunteers’ faces on their facebook pages saying that MSJC are interfering with police work.

Does #StopTheBulletsKE refer to just the bullets of extrajudicial killings or also bullets of other violence?

  • All bullets.
  • Social justice centres are often accused of supporting criminals but in fact support the rule of law, as well as the constitution.
  • Centres tackle criminal violence by organising dialogues with the youth to direct them away from crime towards alternatives.

How many cases are currently in your file of extrajudicial killings and are other types of killings recorded?

  • There are currently 35 cases, just in MSJC’s file for Mathare.
  • Only extrajudicial killings are recorded.

Are extrajudicial killings the biggest issue social justice centres deal with?

  • The Social Justice Centre movement began with the issue of extrajudicial killings and although attempting to tackle other human rights issues, extrajudicial killings have remained their focus and are the main challenge faced by the communities represented.

How many people do social justice centres represent and have other centres been visited?

  • Millions are represented. Perhaps roughly 5 million.

Who, from the UN, has sat in this room before me? Excluding Marcella.

  • No one.
  • Getting access to the United Nations agencies is very difficult.
  • Social justice centres publish reports but very little happens. This disconnect needs to be addressed so that the UN reacts when new reports are published.

Specific actions Andrew Gilmour promised to take:

  • To follow up on the case of Rashid, Mathare’s infamous “killer cop”.
  • To explore how the UN can support Saba Saba March For Our Lives 2019.
  • To raise the issues discussed during the meeting with prominent people such as ministers, ambassadors and NGOs involved in human rights in Kenya at a dinner meeting, the same evening.

Further comments made by Andrew Gilmour

  • Since the police are angry that social justice centres’ work brings attention to them, volunteers show “extraordinary courage”, putting themselves at risk.
  • The Social Justice Centre movement, as a whole, “seems to be such an effective network”.

The work being done by social justice centres is “incredibly inspiring… exceptionally impressive… far more people need to know about it

Thereafter, final comments were made by Andrew Gilmour, followed by a speech of appreciation by Social Justice Centre members.

We are grateful for the solidarity visit by Andrew Gilmour, and always for the solidarity shown to us by the courageous Marcella Favretto. See pictures from the day below.

 

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