What We Do
Currently, the Kibera Law Centre has over 90 cases pending in the Kenyan courts, but much of our work begins inside our mobile van unit. Every morning at eight o’clock, our team drives the van into the slum to greet the waiting and ever-growing queue of Kibera citizens who have heard that we offer both arbitration and legal services. Many of our cases are solved on the spot in the van through arbitration, but many more require lengthy legal proceedings within local courts and tribunals.
Examples of the kinds of cases we handle regularly include:
- Human Rights cases, usually against the Kenyan government for killings, maiming and torture
- Labor disputes
- Landlord/tenant disputes
- Domestic Violence
- Probate and estate administration
- Child abuse and custody
- Lack of access to basic services
- Land cases for people the government calls “squatters”; (we recognize the rights of the inhabitants of the land in Kibera in a different way than the government does).
Each case is a test to statutory rights and an ever evolving case law regarding the rights of the poor of the Kibera Slum. Government abuse of citizens, police and official misconduct and corruption, torture, rape, murder, arson, beatings and theft are among the cases pending. A watchdog for government abuse of power, the Kibera Law Centre’s mission is to make sure that the government takes its own Constitution seriously and upholds the law for all citizens within the Kibera Slum.
Protecting Human Rights
It’s important to know that many of the cases we handle regarding land dispute or lack of access to basic services, such as sewage service, are caused or influenced by the actions or inaction of the government and its agencies. Court suits are essential to take these issues out of the hands of corrupt government officials.
From the outset of the Kibera Law Centre, its focus has necessarily been on the historical and ingrained failures of the Judicial system and the Executive branch of the Government to enforce existing laws which expressly prohibit violations of human rights and Constitutional guarantees. In this connection, the professors of law on the Board of Advisors have been particularly helpful as they specialize in precisely these areas of public law.
As such, we focus a lot of our long-term efforts on policy and reform. We work with colleagues such as the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), the International Commission of Jurists, (ICJ-Kenya), the Independent Medical Legal Unit, (IMLU) and other civil society organizations. The issues that we introduce through the court system are essential for advocating the initiatives necessary to lead to a body of Constitutional case law which can then be cited when dealing with future cases and disputes.
Current position papers before the Kenyan Parliament include the Child Justice Bill 2011, The Legal Aid Bill 2011 and the Vetting of Judges and Magistrates Bill (now an Act).
Working with the Kenyan Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya
Created by an act of Parliament, the Kenyan Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, (the TJRC) was created after the Kenyan political crisis of 2007 when national elections again showed that entrenched interests would stop at nothing to maintain their power base. Atrocities committed included vote suppression and outright murder, as over 1500 people were killed in the two weeks following the election.
The TJRC has a mandate to investigate atrocities against the citizens of Kenya in their pursuit of a government that works for them and not against them. Additionally, under Section 8(a) of the Act, the Commission can arrange with “other bodies and organizations” for the prosecution of those whom the Commission’s evidentiary investigations suggest should be prosecuted for either civil or criminal violations of the Act.
The Kibera Law Centre is now proposing to the TJRC a working relationship to benefit the public and the respective needs of both parties. After the “truth finding” function of the TJRC is concluded, the Commission will propose remedial recommendations for the purpose of healing the nation and breaking away from the past atrocities and human rights abuses which have haunted Kenya. These recommendations will entail reparations to victims, prosecution of the perpetrators of human rights violations, provide for amnesty, and recommend restitution or compensation as cases warrant such actions.
Of equal importance is the prosecution of cases to enforce implementation of the Commission’s recommended remedies, and therefore of the Act. However, court action is a function which many believe is inappropriate for the TJRC itself. Therefore it is proposed that the Commission should authorize the Kibera Law Centre to file and prosecute enforcement actions in the courts. Working with the TJRC not only increases the potential of creating justice for those we serve, but it also gives us credibility with the government and the opportunity to build relationships with like-minded parties. It shows everyone involved our desire to work on these issues for the long-term – something that will be possible only if we continue to receive funding from the philanthropic community. Read on to see how you can help.