Kenyan human rights commissioner visits Minnesota

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Hon. Fatuma Ibrahim Ali, one of the nine commissioners serving in the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights visited Minnesota in May at the invitation of the International Leadership Institute (ILI) to share ideas with the African Diaspora on the human rights situation in Kenya.

She connected to Minnesota after attending this year’s United Nations Human Rights and Indigenous People annual event in New York. She was received by the President of the International Leadership Institute of Minnesota, retired Judge La June Thomas Lange and Nadifa Osman, President of WARDA and Chairperson of ILI Greater Horn of Africa Women’s Project.

Commissioner Fatuma Ibrahim Ali was first appointed by the Kenyan President to the Human Rights watchdog in Kenya when it was established in 2003 and is now serving her second term which ends in November 2012.

“Our main task is to monitor and educate the people of Kenya on human rights malpractices so that they are aware of their rights and empower them to enjoy these rights to the full,” she asserts.

“Rights range from political, social, environmental rights to economic rights. People are made aware of such basic rights as easy access to food, water, shelter, education, and advise the government on how it is meeting its international obligations on matters of universally accepted Human Rights.”

“The Commission visits prisons, detention centers and police stations and compile its report to the government on the conditions we come across in those establishments and advise state organs on how the public could receive better services.”

Has the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights influenced legislation that has enabled Kenyans get better dispensation of human rights? When I posed this question to Commissioner Fatuma Ali, she was in an upbeat mood as she relied:

“I will give you three examples where we have recorded success in Kenya: in the death penalty, access to official documents and right to food during famine.

“There was a great back-log of death sentences which were not executed for decades and condemned people were languishing in jail, we made moves to address this anomaly; people were facing discrimination in receiving official documents like passports, IDs and birth certificates and we ended this problem. During famine periods, we drew attention to the government to treat food availability as a human rights issue.”

“Generally we receive complaints from various sections of the community on abuses of public office by office-bearers who trample on human rights of the people of Kenya, we carry out our investigations and sit as a quasi-judicial body to put our recommendations to the government on how to correct such negative trends.

“We also have a Five Year Strategic Plan on human rights in which we identify key elements of abuses on people and their rights and how such deviations can be dealt with. We have been able to assist widows who after losing their spouses are either forced into marriage by the next of kin of their ex-husbands or are kicked out of the houses, land and property they jointly owned with their spouses.”

Commenting on her visit to the United Nations in New York and Minnesota, Commissioner Fatuma Ali said it was an “enriching experience” and she was able to connect with Africans in the Diaspora, women and youth in particular – with whom they compared notes and experiences on Human Rights in Kenya and in the neighboring states.

Some people who met Commissioner Ali in America were interested to know how organized crime in Kenya was being dealt with after the disputed 2007 last general elections that led to erosion of civil order.

She explained that her body (Kenya National Human Rights Commission) was engaged in training other community-based groups scattered all over the country to seriously engage them in reaching out to their communities on the essence pf respecting the ‘Rule of Law’ as a way to fight militia and gang violence that terrorized Kenya after last elections that nearly tarnished the good image that Kenya had enjoyed since her independence from the British in the early 1960s.

Commissioner Ali thanked the International Leadership Institute of Minnesota for the various speaking engagements they arranged for her that gave her a forum to widen her horizon on human rights issues through the fruitful exchanges that ensued in what she described as “very rewarding discussions mutually benefiting both sides.”

The visiting Commissioner and her hosts were treated to an African cuisine lunch organized by Kenyan born Abdillahi Sheikh, a Minneapolis Urban League health expert at his residence in South Minneapolis on Memorial Day. A number of African immigrants in Minnesota attended the mouth-watering lunch.

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