Vice Chancellor, Commissioner at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, faculty, students! Mabibi na mabwana: Hamjambo! Habari zenu!
Thank you for inviting me here today to dedicate your new Center for Human Rights. This is a critically important endeavor. This program, and the university’s requirement that all students take a human rights course, is an exciting development for Kenya. Combined with the work this university already does in the area of police science, and with training police recruits, Laikipia University is pioneering a new model of professional education with far-reaching implications for the future of Kenya’s law enforcement and security services. Congratulations!
I will begin today with a fundamental point: human rights matter. They are essential to the quality of life of every citizen, and essential to the quality of governance in every country. And, they are also critical to security – which I’ll get to in just a moment. The United States and Kenya proudly share many values – and human rights are foremost among them. Human rights are enshrined in each of our constitutions, and the fight for human rights is a defining part of each of our histories. In the United States, our Declaration of Independence opened with a statement of human rights – that we are all created equal and are all endowed with fundamental rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Here in Kenya, human rights are at the core of the 2010 constitution’s provisions on the judiciary, on the police, on government oversight mechanisms, on women’s political participation, on land, on social and economic equality – and so much more. Your new constitution is another milestone in the effort to advance and strengthen rights in Kenya.
Which brings me to my second point. Even as we celebrate the progress we have made, we still have work to do. Both the United States and Kenya still face human rights challenges and problems.
As many of you know, in the United States we continue to debate the role and power of the police. This has been a difficult time for police relations with some communities, particularly the African American communities, in the United States. Local police forces have used excessive force in some cases, and innocent people have died as a result. Americans have expressed strong concern about excessive force and taken to the streets and courts of law to demand police reforms and accountability. While our principles and values are clear, we continue to face challenges in providing for public safety, preventing police abuses, and improving relations between the police and our diverse communities.
Here in Kenya, there have been accusations of extra-judicial killings, and other abuses, by the police. Communities have spoken out on the need to improve treatment by police, on the need to build stronger trust. And people across the country have called for greater accountability for police and other officials who commit abuses.
From our own experiences in the United States, this much is clear: words are not enough. Promises about human rights are not enough. Not nearly enough. And that brings me to my third point: the actions we take, the methods we choose, to protect human rights are absolutely critical. The first step, without any doubt, is to identify and acknowledge the problems we face. We have already begun today to discuss and define a few of the challenges. But the concrete actions that follow matter most of all.
Government leaders, politicians, the police, the judiciary, and their partners in civil society must all take action to stop injustices. They must investigate allegations. They must provide protection to victims and witnesses. And they must hold those responsible for these injustices accountable. This is a shared imperative for both the United States and Kenya.
That is why Kenya’s work to develop oversight bodies such as the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, the National Police Services Commission, and the Police Internal Affairs Unit are so vital to the professionalization of the police and the battle against corruption and abuse. Upholding regulations and insisting on the rule of law are not attacks on the police services – on the contrary, they are essential to their improvement. It is necessary, as well, to protect free speech, including for critics who challenge government policies and decisions. We must remember that unity does not mean uniformity – it means finding common purpose and strength in our diversity.
But, protecting human rights is not only the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. To that end, all of the U.S. government’s development programs in Kenya are based on the principle that everyone is entitled to live with dignity, free from discrimination and abuse. Safeguarding human rights is essential for the equitable development and growth of any society. It will help build a stronger country.
The security challenges facing Kenya today provide a perfect example: human rights and security go hand in hand. They reinforce each other – each will fail if the other is abandoned.
President Obama recently gathered leaders from many countries, including Kenya, for a global summit on countering violent extremism in Washington. One of the conclusions of that summit was that respect for human rights, civil society and democratic engagement will be a key part of defeating terrorism. As President Obama said, “we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy.”
That means more than free elections: it means an independent judiciary upholding the rule of law; freedom of religion; police and security forces that respect human rights and who are held accountable if they do not; and free speech and freedom for civil society groups.
President Obama’s statement was a guide for defeating terrorism and extremism around the globe. The entire world witnessed the heinous murder of 148 people at Garissa University College. And we mourned with Kenyans. The terrorists who committed this act were seeking to deprive all of us of our rights – and they were seeking to destroy Kenya’s future by dividing us against ourselves. They were trying to create fear, uncertainty and to provoke further violence.
To defeat terrorism and build security, we must remain united and hold true to the democratic values we share. Time and time again, we have seen that human rights abuses – by governments, by courts, by security forces, and even by citizens against other citizens – foment violent extremism. Depriving people of their rights fuels the kind of anger and desperation that can lead to violence.
The U.S. partnership with Kenya today is first and foremost founded on our shared values and rights – and that includes our partnership to stop terrorism and violent extremism. We work directly with the Kenyan security services, providing training and assistance to build their capacity to confront terrorists and criminals, while at the same time emphasizing the need to respect human rights. Our law enforcement assistance over the past five years has been over $60 million, or 6 billion Kenya shillings. And a significant portion of that assistance went to developing Kenya’s oversight authorities charged with maintaining the professional discipline and rigor of the police services and with confronting abuses.
In addition, we work with communities at risk of marginalization and radicalization to build bridges and promote dialogue. We work too with civil society groups striving to ensure justice and the rule of law in Kenya.
We know, from our own experience, that human rights are a cornerstone of security. So, today I recommit to our partnership with Kenya to protect human rights and security – together. And, I urge the Government of Kenya to continue to take steps to improve security, along with strong measures to protect human rights. This should include investigating allegations of abuses with the fullest vigor and holding those responsible for abuses accountable. The American people stand shoulder to shoulder with the Kenyan people in the fight against the scourge of terrorism and in the effort to protect human rights.
President Obama, in his statement following the attack on Garissa University College, spoke of the extraordinary resilience and fundamental decency of the people of Kenya. We believe – I believe – that the future of Kenya is not going to be shaped by violence and terror. It will be shaped by young people like yourselves – by your talent, by your hope, and by your work to build a stronger and better democracy.
As Desmond Tutu was fond of saying, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
As I meet you all today, I can see your commitment to human rights, to security and to the values we share. This Human Rights Center, the work this university is doing, and the work that you as students are doing, sends a powerful message to Kenyans, to Americans, and to people everywhere. By establishing a strong foundation for the study of human rights, and by creatively integrating human rights into security and police studies, you are working to solve a great challenge that we face together. You are taking action. You are building a better future for Kenyans, and for Americans. For that, I thank you.
Pamoja tusonge mbele.