News 2008


House Team Rejects Ethnic Relations Bill

The Nation (Nairobi)

15 July 2008

Owino Opondo


A parliamentary committee has rejected the legislation proposing the creation of a commission on ethnic and racial discrimination.

Members of the Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs Committee scrutinised the National Ethnic and Race Relations Commission Bill, who were meeting in Mombasa last weekend, said it was faulty.

They agreed it had numerous flaws that should be fixed and proposed that it be returned to the originator - Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs minister Martha Karua for amendment.

MPs divided

Parliament had debated the Bill for two days and it was clear that MPs were divided over it. Some MPs welcomed the proposed law, saying the public had failed to frown on ethnic and racial discrimination, and that it was time to have a law in place to punish perpetrators of ethnic disharmony.

However, several members dismissed the Bill, arguing that the Government could misuse the proposed commission to witch-hunt those it deemed to be its enemies.

The Bill has its origin in the Serena Hotel deliberations of the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee, formed after the post-election political crisis. The committee felt that it was important to start the fight against ethnic and race discrimination.

The proposed law states that Kenya has realised that equal access to various opportunities without ethnic discrimination was a prerequisite for cultivating goodwill, lasting peace and co-existence among its various communities.

The Bill includes in its definition of "ethnic relations" racial, religious, tribal and cultural interactions, and provides for the commission to ensure individuals or groups don't misuse such important facets of life.

Relevant committee

If enacted, the commission shall have 12 members, comprising a chairperson appointed by the President from among 15 nominees cleared by the relevant committee of Parliament.

Of these, eight shall be commissioners, while three shall be ex-officio members - the chairpersons of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the National Commission on Gender and Development and the Public Complaints Standing Committee (Ombudsman).

Members of the Legal Affairs committee who spoke to the Nation, but asked not to be named, said they realised a number of provisions in the Bill were weak. Committee meetings are held in camera.

"Maybe those at Serena were emotional because of the violence that was taking place then," the committee member said.

Supporting the move by the MPs, Centre for Governance and Development executive director Kennedy Masime said racial and ethnic discrimination don't have to be addressed by a commission.

"The Bill of Rights defines human rights, while section 82 of the Constitution criminalises all forms of discrimination based on tribe, ethnicity, creed or religion," said Mr Masime.

The CGD boss said that what the Bill wanted to do was already within the mandate of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Act (2002).

Among other things, the KNCHR defines human rights as "fundamental rights and freedoms of any individual protected under the Constitution and any human rights provided for in any international instrument to which Kenya is a signatory".

Public coffers

Mr Masime warned Parliament against legislating the formation of so many commissions to the extent of straining the public coffers.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee on Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs is this Thursday expected to interview applicants hoping to replace Mr Maina Kiai as KNCHR commissioner.

Mr Kiai whose term as chairman of the commission has ended did not wish to extend his stay. He has been replaced by Ms Florence Jaoko.

Sources said the committee went through a list of 203 applicants and shortlisted 20 for the Thursday interview. Three of the names that qualify will then be taken to Parliament for nomination before they are finally forwarded to the President who will appoint one.