Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president, deputy president, and parliamentarians, as well as county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won re-election as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities, and the court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president that the opposition boycotted. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared President Kenyatta winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results.
The National Police Service maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence both internally and externally and reports directly to the president. The Kenya Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including post disaster response. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government and by the terrorist group al-Shabaab; forced disappearances by the government or on behalf of the government and by al-Shabaab; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations and activists; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority, established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. The government took limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although the Independent Policing Oversight Authority continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common.
Al-Shabaab staged deadly attacks on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. The government continued to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterrorism operations.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arrest or detention without a court order unless there are reasonable grounds for believing a suspect has committed or is about to commit a criminal offense. Police, however, arrested and detained persons arbitrarily, accused them of a crime to mask underlying police abuses, or accused them of more severe crimes than they had committed. For example, legal rights NGOs and prison officials reported overuse of the charge of “robbery with violence” that may carry a life sentence, even when violence or threats of violence were insignificant. Some petty offenders consequently received disproportionately heavy sentences.
Poor casework, incompetence, and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judges undermined prosecutions. Police also frequently failed to enter detainees into custody records, making it difficult to locate them. Dispute resolution at police stations resolved a significant number of crimes, but authorities did not report or record them, according to human rights organizations.
NGOs reported arbitrary arrests and detention of activists, journalists, and bloggers during the year. The Defenders Coalition said it had provided support, including legal representation and bail, to 79 activists who had been arrested or detained through September. Most activists were released within short periods, usually less than 24 hours, and in most cases prosecutors either declined to press charges or courts dismissed the cases. The NGO Article 19 recorded 51 attacks against journalists, including online communicators, between May 2020 and April.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law provides police with broad powers of arrest. Police officers may make arrests without a warrant if they suspect a crime occurred, is happening, or is imminent. Victims’ rights NGOs reported that in some cases authorities required victims to pay bribes and to provide transportation for police to a suspect’s location to execute a legal arrest warrant.
The constitution’s bill of rights provides significant legal protections, including provisions requiring arrested persons to be arraigned, charged, informed of the reason for continuing their detention, or released within 24 hours of their arrest as well as provisions requiring the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus to allow a court to determine the lawfulness of detention. In many cases, however, authorities did not follow the prescribed time limits. While authorities in many cases released detainees held longer than the prescribed period, some cases did not result in an acquittal, and authorities provided no compensation for time served in pretrial detention.
The constitution establishes the right of suspects to bail unless there are compelling reasons militating against release. There is a functioning bail system, and all suspects, including those accused of capital offenses, are eligible for bail. Many suspects remained in jail for months pending trial because of their inability to post bail. Due to overcrowding in prisons, courts rarely denied bail to individuals who could pay it, even when the circumstances warranted denial. For example, NGOs that worked with survivors of sexual assault complained authorities granted bail to suspects even in cases in which there was evidence they posed a continuing threat to survivors.
Although the law provides pretrial detainees with the right to access family members and attorneys, family members of detainees frequently complained authorities permitted access only upon payment of bribes. When detainees could afford counsel, police generally permitted access to attorneys.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Victims of arbitrary arrest were generally poor young men, particularly those living in informal settlements. Human rights organizations complained security forces made widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions during counterterrorism operations. These arrests reportedly targeted Muslim citizens, including ethnic Somalis.
The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported arrests continued in informal settlements during the pandemic for noncompliance with the curfew or failure to wear masks. Individuals were asked to pay cash bail or a bribe to be released. The NCAJ directed that, during the COVID-19 period, petty offenders should not be held at police stations for more than 24 hours and should be released either on cash bail or on free police bond.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem and contributed significantly to prison overcrowding. In 2020 approximately 40 percent of total inmates were pretrial detainees. Authorities held some defendants in pretrial detention longer than the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for the crime for which they were charged. The government claimed the average time spent in pretrial detention was 14 days, but there were reports many detainees spent two to three years in prison before their trials were completed. Police from the arresting locale were responsible for bringing detainees from prison to court when hearings are scheduled but often failed to do so, forcing detainees to wait for the next hearing of their case (see section 1.e.).
During the year courts procured new equipment to increase access to virtual proceedings. In-person hearings and trials resumed partially, despite many court facilities having limited capacity to fully comply with the government’s COVID-19 restrictions. In March, for example, Milimani Court’s Family Division closed temporarily following an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff members.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law entitles persons arrested or detained to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but that right was not always protected.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Officials frequently engaged in allegedly corrupt practices with impunity. Despite public progress in fighting corruption, the government continued to face hurdles in implementing relevant laws effectively. The slow processing of corruption cases was exacerbated by COVID-19 containment measures, with courts lacking sufficient technological capacity to hear cases remotely.
Corruption: The director of public prosecutions continued prosecutions of high-level cases involving six sitting county governors and dozens of national government and parastatal officials with ties to the ruling party and to the political opposition. A landmark ruling in 2019 bars county governors from accessing their offices until their corruption cases are concluded. Two governors were indicted and impeached by their county assemblies while their cases continued in the courts. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) also investigated high-level procurement irregularities at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, a state agency with the sole mandate of procuring medications and equipment for government health centers. The investigations involved procurement of personal protective equipment at inflated costs and probed the alleged disappearance of personal protective equipment and other equipment donated to the country. These investigations and prosecutions continued at year’s end. In September the Anti-Corruption Court convicted two high-profile defendants, a former cabinet secretary and a former director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.
The public continued to perceive corruption as a severe problem at all levels of government. Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer – Africa found 45 percent of respondents had paid a bribe, compared with 37 percent in the previous 2015 survey. Police and authorities issuing identification documents were cited the most for taking bribes. Corruption had increased according to 67 percent of respondents, and 71 percent believed the government was doing a poor job of combating corruption, unchanged from the results of Transparency’s 2015 Corruption Barometer.
In 2019 President Kenyatta appointed a new chief executive officer of the EACC, who introduced a new approach to tackling corruption that prioritized high-impact cases, systems reviews, assets recovery, and public communication. Officials from agencies tasked with fighting corruption, including the EACC, the ODPP, and judiciary, were also subjects of corruption allegations.
The EACC has the legal mandate to investigate official corruption allegations, develop and enforce a code of ethics for public officials, and engage in public outreach on corruption. The EACC, however, lacks prosecutorial authority and must refer cases to the ODPP to initiate prosecutions. Disagreements between the ODPP and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) regarding which office can initiate investigations and deliver files to court resulted in the delayed prosecution of the Kenya Ports Authority managing director on corruption allegations. In June 2020 the Kenyan Constitutional Court declared the DCI did not have power or authority to institute criminal proceedings before a court of law without consent from the ODPP. Following that ruling, the ODPP issued decision to charge guidelines to assist prosecutors in charging decisions.
The government took additional steps during the year to combat corruption, including increasing the number of investigations and prosecutions. The government made limited progress on other commitments, including adoption of international anticorruption standards and digitization of government records and processes. Because courts had significant case backlogs and relied heavily on trials (rather than settlements), cases could take years to resolve.
Police corruption remained a significant problem. Human rights NGOs reported police often stopped and arrested citizens to extort bribes. Police sometimes jailed citizens on trumped-up charges or beat those who could not pay the bribes. During police vetting conducted by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) in recent years, many police officers were found to have the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in their bank accounts, far exceeding what would be possible to save from their salaries. Mobile money records showed some officers also transferred money to superior officers.
The judiciary and the National Police Service continued measures to reform the handling of traffic cases by police and courts, streamlining the management of traffic offenses to curb corruption. Despite this progress, no senior police official was convicted or jailed for corruption-related offenses during the year.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of all persons, defilement (statutory rape), domestic violence, and sex tourism, but enforcement remained limited. The law’s definition of domestic violence includes sexual violence within marriage, early and forced marriage, FGM/C, forced wife “inheritance,” damage to property, defilement, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, harassment, incest, intimidation, physical abuse, stalking, verbal abuse, or any other conduct against a person that harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person. The law does not explicitly criminalize spousal rape. Insulting the modesty of another person by intruding upon that person’s privacy or stripping them of clothing are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years.
The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for rape when the survivor is older than 18, although sentences were at the discretion of the judge and usually no longer than the minimum of 10 years (see section 6, Children). Citizens frequently used traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms, including maslaha in Muslim communities, to address sexual offenses in rural areas, with village elders assessing financial compensation for the survivors or their families. They also used such mechanisms occasionally in urban areas.
The judiciary recorded 17,272 cases of gender-based violence filed in court between July 2019 and June 2020. The NGO Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya reported arrests and prosecutions of sexual violence cases remained low, even in cases in which survivors identified perpetrators, due to limited police resources to conduct investigations, insufficient evidence collection and handling mechanisms, and lengthy court proceedings, which made it difficult and expensive for survivors to pursue cases.
Although police no longer required physicians to examine survivors, physicians still had to complete official forms reporting rape. Rural areas generally had no police physician, and in Nairobi there were only three. NGOs reported police stations often but inconsistently accepted the examination report of clinical physicians who initially treated rape survivors. In October the National Police Service launched its “Policare” program, which sought to establish one-stop shops in every county to address and prevent gender-based violence. Police also launched an updated Integrated Response to Gender-Based Violence document, which standardized procedures and standards of care in these cases.
Authorities cited domestic violence as the leading cause of preventable, nonaccidental death for women. Except in cases of death, police officers generally refrained from investigating domestic violence, which they considered a private family matter.
NGOs expressed concerns regarding a rise in incidents of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, and forced evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In September Human Rights Watch released a report on the rise of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report blamed the government for failing to protect and providing inadequate assistance to survivors.
A national helpline established by the Department of Gender Affairs received a total of 5,009 cases in 2020, an increase of 36 percent compared with the prior year. Survivors of sexual violence were unable to report crimes or seek medical treatment during curfew hours. The government established rescue centers for gender-based violence in West Pokot, Bungoma, Vihiga, Meru, and Mirgori Counties.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law makes it illegal to practice FGM/C, procure the services of someone who practices FGM/C, or send a person out of the country to undergo the procedure. The law also makes it illegal to make derogatory remarks about a woman who has not undergone FGM/C. In September the court dismissed a petition filed in 2017 to strike down the law banning FGM/C. The court ruled revoking the anti-FGM/C law would expose women to this harmful practice without sufficient legal protection. Government officials often participated in public-awareness programs to prevent the practice. Nevertheless, individuals practiced FGM/C widely, particularly in some rural areas. According to UNICEF, despite the legal prohibition of FGM/C and progress made by the government in eliminating the practice, myths supporting the practice remained deep rooted in some local cultures. UNICEF estimated 21 percent of adult women ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure some time in their lives, but the practice was heavily concentrated in a few communities, including the Maasai (78 percent), Samburu (86 percent), and Somali (94 percent).
As part of the government’s initiative to end FGM/C by 2022, the Ministry of Public Service, Gender, Senior Citizens Affairs, and Special Programs continued work with county officials and nonstate actors to improve enforcement of the FGM/C law. This included education and advocacy efforts as well as prosecutions of those violating the law. NGOs and government officials reported a significant increase of FGM/C cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting school closures left girls more at risk. Many FGM/C rescue centers were closed partially or even totally due to the pandemic. Media reported arrests of perpetrators and parents who agreed to FGM/C, but parents in regions with a high prevalence of FGM/C frequently bribed police to allow the practice to continue. There were also reports FGM/C increasingly occurred in secret to avoid prosecution. County officials in areas with a high prevalence of FGM/C noted many cases targeted infants, with one recent government study finding an estimated 61 percent of girls younger than five in one county had undergone the procedure.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Certain communities practiced wife inheritance, in which a man inherits the widow of his brother or other close relative, regardless of her wishes. The practice was more likely in cases of poor women with limited access to education and living outside of major cities.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes prison time of at least three years or a fine of at least $880 or both for anyone found guilty of committing such crimes. Sexual harassment was often not reported, and survivors rarely filed charges.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Nonetheless, families of girls with disabilities sometimes colluded with medical professionals to sterilize them as a means of protecting them from sexual violence, according to a disability rights activist. See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.
The constitution recognizes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Exercising this right, however, remained difficult due to the prohibitive costs of contraception for some persons, the limited information and services that were available, and cultural and religious norms in some areas that discouraged the use of modern contraceptives and gave men decision-making authority over women. Subsidized contraception options, including condoms, birth control pills, and long acting or permanent methods, were widely available to both men and women, although access was more difficult in rural areas.
A 2019 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that more than half of sexually active adolescent women between the ages of 15 and 19 who did not want to become pregnant had an unmet need for modern contraception and that almost two-thirds of pregnancies among this age group were unintended. The adolescent birth rate was 96 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Access to sexual and reproductive health information by adolescents remained a problem due to lack of comprehensive sexuality education in schools, low coverage of youth-friendly services, and a lack of adequate stocks of contraceptives in public hospitals.
According to UNFPA, 56 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own decisions regarding health care, contraception, and sex with their husbands or partners. NGOs reported that it was more difficult for marginalized groups, including LGBTQI+ persons, women with disabilities, displaced persons, and persons with HIV, to access reproductive health information and services.
Skilled obstetric, prenatal, and postpartum care was available in major hospitals, but many women could not access or afford these services. Skilled health-care personnel attended an estimated 62 percent of births, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Maternity services were free of charge in all public health institutions in the country. The government’s Linda Mama program, a free health insurance plan that covers the pregnancy period and up to three months postdelivery, targeted women in rural and low-income areas and continued to operate during the year. NGOs reported that government measures to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a nationwide curfew and movement restrictions, led to an increase in maternal morbidity, a decrease in births attended by skilled health-care personnel, and a decrease in women receiving prenatal and postpartum care during the year.
Maternal deaths accounted for 51 percent of all deaths of women between the ages of 15 and 49, and the maternal mortality rate was 342 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. Unsafe abortion, pregnancy, and birth complications limited access to health services, and harmful cultural practices were cited as among the main causes of maternal death and morbidity. UNFPA reported that maternal mortality in Mandera County was 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births – the highest in the country – partially due to harmful cultural rites such as FGM/C and limited access to health services. In 2019 the High Court ruled that the director of medical services and the Ministry of Health had violated the rights of the country’s women by arbitrarily withdrawing standards and guidelines on reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions.
The law provides pregnant girls the right to continue their education until and after giving birth, but NGOs reported schools often did not always respect this right (see section 6, Children). Human rights organizations reported teenage pregnancy often led girls to drop out of school without a safety net or plan for continued education after birth.
Discrimination: The constitution provides equal rights for men and women and specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language, or birth. Nevertheless, the justice system widely applied customary laws that discriminated against women, limiting their political and economic rights.
The constitution prohibits gender discrimination in relation to land and property ownership and gives women equal rights to inheritance and access to land. The constitution also provides for the enactment of legislation for the protection of wives’ rights to matrimonial property during and upon the termination of a marriage, and it affirms parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during the marriage, and at its dissolution. In September a judge presiding over a matrimonial property dispute ruled being a housewife should be considered a full-time job. The judge ruled it was unfair for courts to rule that housewives do not contribute to household financial wellbeing. According to civil society groups, women continued to face institutional and legal barriers that hindered their access to justice and a fair share of matrimonial property upon the dissolution of marriage. Additionally, the components of the law that stipulate how to apply for succession were little known, and thus many inheritances continued to pass from fathers to sons only.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Although the constitution declares the state shall not discriminate against any person based on race, societal discrimination against persons of different racial and ethnic groups was common. Enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination was inadequate, according to human rights groups. The 2019 census recognized 45 ethnic groups in the country; none holds a majority. The Kikuyu and related groups dominated much of private commerce and industry and often purchased land outside their traditional home areas, which sometimes resulted in fierce resentment from other ethnic groups, especially in the coastal and Rift Valley areas. Competition for water and pasture was especially serious in the north and northeast.
There was frequent conflict, including banditry, fights over land, and cattle rustling, among the Somali, Turkana, Gabbra, Borana, Samburu, Rendille, and Pokot ethnic groups in arid northern, eastern, and Rift Valley areas that at times resulted in deaths. Disputes regarding county borders were also a source of ethnic tensions.
Media reported at least 18 persons died in July during tribal clashes regarding resources in Marsabit County along the border with Ethiopia. The government deployed security forces to stop the fighting, which had plagued the region for many years.
In September media reported at least eight persons died, and dozens of homes were burned in Laikipia County, as armed herders invaded privately run nature conservancies in search of water and grazing land for their livestock. In October the government deployed an interagency team to quell the violence after fighting broke out again.
Ethnic differences also caused several discriminatory employment practices (see section 7.d.).
Trafficking in Persons
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which was interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual conduct and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment if convicted, and seven years for “attempting” said conduct. The law also criminalizes acts of “gross indecency” between men, whether in public or in private, with five years’ imprisonment. Police detained persons under these laws, particularly persons suspected of prostitution, but released them shortly afterward.
In 2016 LGBTQI+ activists filed two petitions challenging the constitutionality of these penal codes. In 2019 the High Court issued a unanimous ruling upholding the laws criminalizing homosexuality, citing insufficient evidence they violate LGBTQI+ rights and claiming repealing the law would contradict the constitution that stipulates marriage is between a man and woman. The LGBTQI+ community filed an appeal against this ruling and received favorable decisions on a handful of procedural matters but was awaiting a substantive hearing at year’s end. After filing this case, the LGBTQI+ community experienced increased ostracism and harassment, according to activist groups.
LGBTQI+ organizations reported police more frequently used public-order laws (for example, disturbing the peace) than same-sex legislation to arrest LGBTQI+ individuals. NGOs reported police frequently harassed, intimidated, or physically abused LGBTQI+ individuals in custody. They also reported police threatened homosexual men with forced anal examinations while in custody, which were outlawed in 2018.
Authorities permitted LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations to register and conduct activities.
The constitution does not explicitly protect LGBTQI+ persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals were widespread. LGBTQI+ rights organizations reported an increase in conversion therapy and practices. It attributed this increase to the fact many LGBTQI+ persons had returned to hostile home and community environments after losing their jobs because of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some LGBTQI+ groups also reported an increase in abuses cases against LGBTQI+ persons during the pandemic. They attributed this rise to increased scrutiny of LGBTQI+ persons’ lifestyles because of COVID-19-related lockdown and curfew orders. In May human rights defender and HAPA Kenya paralegal Joash Mosoti was allegedly tortured and killed at his home in Mombasa.
In September the Kenya Film Classification Board banned the film I am Samuel for attempting to “promote same-sex marriage agenda as an acceptable way of life.” The board claimed the film violated Article 165 of the penal code, which outlaws homosexuality, as well as provisions of the Films and Stage Plays Act.
Although the country grants refugee status to persons whose persecution is due to sexual orientation or gender expression, some LGBTQI+ refugees continued to face stigma and discrimination. They were often compelled to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity to protect themselves, especially among Somali refugee communities in Dadaab. National organizations working with LGBTQI+ persons offered support to refugees who were LGBTQI+, including access to safety networks and specialized health facilities.
There were approximately 1,000 LGBTQI+ refugees in the country, including approximately 300 in Kakuma, where there were reports of violence and intimidation against LGBTQI+ refugees during the year. An arson attack by unknown perpetrators in March led to the death of one LGBTQI+ refugee in April. UNHCR and NGO partners provided medical and other assistance for LGBTQI+ refugees when necessary, but legal accountability for perpetrators was lacking. In March UNHCR released a statement outlining efforts in collaboration with police and the Refugee Affairs Secretariat to enhance security for LGBTQI+ refugees, including the relocation of some particularly vulnerable individuals.