Making the UPR work for HIV, key and vulnerable populations in Kenya

Making the UPR work for HIV, key and vulnerable populations in Kenya

A blog written by Wanja Ngure

Last year, I was part of a group of Kenyan HIV activists who participated in the 35th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) pre-session in Geneva to bring civil society’s voice on Kenya’s human rights progress. It was a very exciting engagement in the cold country of Switzerland. At the gate we were warned on what to present and what not to present. What Kenya was willing to accept, and they would not accept. We had to re-organize ourselves and strategize on the spot on how to present the issues to our government on what affects marginalized and vulnerable people,  hindering them from access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services. We all agreed we had a mission in Geneva and one we had to accomplish.

 

Together with a few other Kenyan activists we decided that our key advocacy message should be a “Universal Periodic Review that works for HIV, key and vulnerable populations

 

The pre-session day was very productive, we met with the Human Rights Officer to the Kenya Mission in Geneva. He was receptive to our issues and promised to discuss them with the Kenya delegation to the Human Rights Council. As we waited and hoped,  we continued our meetings with various missions, some of them were very promising, others were not swayed, while others referred us back to their missions in Kenya.

My own journey with the UPR didn’t start in Geneva. It started in 2018.

Since Kenya was coming up for review in January 23, 2020, other human rights advocates and I decided to use this opportunity to strengthen our advocacy for laws and policies to increase equal access of SRHR for key and vulnerable populations. That the timing was right was buttressed by the fact that Kenya, even though it is one of the 27 Fast-Track countries, had not received an HIV recommendation in the last two UPR cycles.

Key populations successes in the UPR

Our first success came when we engaged with other human rights activists to prioritize key populations related issues when engaging with the UPR process. An important first step was to build the capacity of organizations of key and vulnerable populations to confidently engage with a process that was first seen to be difficult to engage with.

 

Our issues were being ignored and our demands termed as ambitious

 

A few months later, key populations in Kenya participated in a meeting, organised by UPR-Info, that brought together over 50 human rights institutions including key populations to develop the mid-term review of the Kenya’s 2nd UPR review cycle. In spite of the declining human rights situation of key populations in Kenya, where culture and religion can hinder development towards an inclusive society, our issues were being ignored and our demands termed as ambitious. A response that was very disappointing coming from human rights experts who we thought would know better.

We expressed our disappointment to the Vice Chair of Kenya National Commission on Human Rights who called upon everyone to engage with human rights non selectively. He also mentioned that the role of the UPR is to ensure that domestic laws protect and promote laws of its citizens and as CSOs we need to ensure that we use UPR as a mechanism that will push for inclusion and not discrimination.

 

Key populations’ issues were included in Kenya’s 2nd UPR cycle mid-term review report

 

However, our advocacy was rewarded when key populations’ issues were included in Kenya’s 2nd UPR cycle mid-term review report under the economic, social and cultural rights segment where sexual orientation and gender identity issues were explicitly mentioned. This affirmed the engagement of key populations in the mainstream CSO UPR engagement platform. It was also the start of our 3rd UPR cycle journey.

Fast forward to writing the UPR 3rd cycle shadow report, a group of ten human rights activists worked together in consultation with their communities  to develop and submit two reports as PITCH partners and allies. Getting our issues into the mainstream CSOs shadow report was also another major success. Evidence that our capacity strengthening for partners on engaging with the UPR process together had borne fruit.

Valuable lessons

Engaging with the process has come with various successes and lessons learnt. From where we are now, we can thank PITCH for opening the doors of global policy fora to country-level advocates and more so believing in their capacity to influence the change they would want to see in their countries.

One of the many lessons I have learnt is that we need to engage more with other institutions that we think are at the top of their game in regard to protecting human rights, to educate them on the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) and key population issues.

Next steps

As PITCH Kenya we are waiting with enthusiasm to see the recommendations that Kenya was given by other member states. These recommendations whether accepted or noted by the State will help us to develop an implementation framework and support our lobby with the Government to protect and promote SRHR for vulnerable populations that are left behind due to criminalisation.

 

Wanja Ngure is a feminist and a human rights activist from Kenya

Within the Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV response (PITCH), we have been working hard during the past year to make international human rights mechanisms work for HIV. In Kenya, we have engaged with the human rights justice movement, have sensitized our citizens about the issue, informed Member States about the need to fight stigma and discrimination and decriminalise key populations to stop new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.

 

 

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