Conference in Nairobi, 2007
Conference CIVIL SOCIETIES AT A CROSSROAD: “Sustaining Human Rights Organisations in the East and Horn of Africa” took place in Nairobi, Kenya. It was attended by over 100 delegates, out of which 50 grassroots human rights defenders from the various districts in Kenya were also present.
The conference was sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Freedom of Expression Foundation (Fritt Ord) Norway, and the Ford Foundation.
Before the official launch of the conference, two key events took place. First, the HRH network Kenya officially launched a report, 'Human Rights in Kenya – The Post Moi Era 2003 – 2007’, analyzing the human rights situation in Kenya during that period and making appropriate recommendations. Second, the HRH network Kenya issued a press statement emphasizing some of the human rights violations highlighted in the report and making appropriate demands to the government to rectify the violations.
The goals of the conference were to provide a consultative forum for civil society organisations in the region to reflect on their experiences, learn from the experiences of other countries, and formulate strategies to enhance their operations and sustainability.
The objectives were first, to create a common front on how civil society organizations should engage effectively with citizens, the government and the donor community to enhance their sustainability. Second, to consider effective ways and means of setting and influencing the agendas of human rights and democratic governance in the country.
The conference discussions were planned on four thematic subjects, considered important in the sustainability of civil society organizations. They were:
Structure and institutional arrangements;
External operating /working environment;
Institutional values and ethics; and
Following welcoming addresses by Maria Dahle, Executive Director of the HRH Foundation and Network, and Morris Odhiambo, Executive Director of Clarion and Team Leader of the Interim Board for the seven organizations making up the Kenya Human Rights House Network, the speakers at the conference were:
Paul Opoku-Mensah, Associate Professor, University of Aalborg, Denmark
Minga Negash, Professor, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
Mohamed Ndifuna, National Coordinator, HURINET Uganda
Jane Onyango, Executive Director, Federation of Women Lawyers – FIDA – Kenya
Samuel Mohochi, Executive Director, Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) Kenya
Dr. Mutuma Rutere, Dean, Kenya Human Rights Institute, Nairobi
Maina Kiai, Chairman, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights
Erastus Wamugo, Human Rights Consultant Kenya
Joseph Akwenyu Manoba, Lawyer and Expert on ICC, Uganda
Minga Negash (left), Professor at the University of Witwatersrand and Paul Opoku Mensah (right), Associate Professor at the University of Aalborg.
Background to the Conference
The hosting of the international Human Rights House Network’s annual meetings takes place on a rotating basis annually, with different Human Rights Houses within the Network taking on the responsibility of arranging and hosting it every year. Late 2006, the Network’s annual meeting decided that the emerging House in Nairobi would host the 2007 meeting. Normally, the conferences are a two day event, addressing not only current trends and tendencies in the local, national and regional human rights situation, but also the different strengths and weaknesses, and last, but not least the needs of human rights defenders and their organisations in the area.
Theme of the Conference
The theme of the conference is “Civil Societies at Crossroads: Sustaining Human Rights organisations in the East and Horn of Africa”. The theme was deliberately selected in view of the difficult environment that civil society organisations continue to operate in that is not only threatening their sustainability but their existence. Four thematic clusters were identified, intended to address sustainability of civil society organisations from various perspectives.
Structural and Institutional Arrangements. This is intended to address the operations of HROs and how their capacity and sustainability is hampered by issues internal and inherent in themselves. Focus was on logistics, financing, cooperation, administration and networking.
External Operating/Working environment. This revolved around external opportunities and threats in respect to legal and political space, the diminishing international moral, financial and political support experienced in many of the countries in the region.
Institutional Values and Ethics. This addressed issues of corruption, general transparency, and the level of democracy in human rights organisations’ management structures. The degree of elitism guiding their work and practices, intolerance, discrimination and exclusion of certain minorities within the human rights movement and society at large will also be addressed.
Impact. This addressed the impact of activities and efforts of HROs vis –a- vis their objectives and mandates. Here, various experiences to do with choice of method, mode and strategy was analysed comparatively, to identify, as much as possible, the more efficient ways of dealing with different categories of human rights issues under different circumstances.