Maina Kiai

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Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Maina Kiai is a lawyer and Kenyan human rights activist who currently serves as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. He took up his functions as Special Rapporteur on May 1, 2011, for an initial period of three years; he is currently serving his second three-year term.[1]

Kiai is also active in human rights work in Kenya, where he has focused on combating corruption, supporting political reform, and fighting against impunity following post-election violence that engulfed Kenya in 2008.[1]

Education, Career & Awards[edit]

Kiai’s most prominent human rights work began in 1992, when he co-founded the unofficial Kenya Human Rights Commission. He served as the Commission’s executive director until September 1998.[2]

Kiai then moved on to become Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Program (1999-2001) and the Africa Director of the International Human Rights Law Group (now Global Rights, 2001-2003)[2] before finally serving as Chairman of the official Kenya National Human Rights Commission from 2003 to 2008.[3]

From July 2010 to April 2011, Kiai was the Executive Director of the International Council on Human Rights Policy. He has also held research fellowships at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the TransAfrica Forum.[1]

In addition to his work as UN Special Rapporteur, Kiai also currently serves as director of the local Kenyan NGO InformAction, which uses a multimedia approach – primarily video production – to help educate Kenyans about their human rights.[3][4] He also writes a periodic column for the Daily Nation, Kenya’s largest daily-circulation newspaper.[5]

In 2014, Freedom House awarded Kiai its Freedom Award, an acknowledgment begun in 1943 "to extol recipients’ invaluable contribution to the cause of freedom and democracy."[6] Prior Freedom Award honorees include Chen Guangcheng, Aung San Suu Kyi, Vaclav Havel, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Medgar Evers, and Edward R. Murrow.

Kiai is a lawyer by profession, trained at Nairobi and Harvard Universities.[1]

Work as Special Rapporteur[edit]

Maina Kiai took up his functions as the first United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association on May 1, 2011.[1] As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

As of June 2015, Kiai has presented four reports to the Human Rights Council on the subjects of best practices in promoting the freedoms of assembly and association (May 2012),[7][8] civil society’s ability to access funding and resources (April 2013),[9][10] the plight of groups "most at risk" when exercising their assembly and association rights (June 2014),[11][12] and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of natural resource exploitation (June 2015).[13][14] In October 2013, he presented his first report to the UN General Assembly, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in the context of elections.[15][16] He presented his second report to the General Assembly - exploring the effect that multilateral institutions have on promoting and protecting assembly and association rights - in October 2014.[17] His third report to the General Assembly (October 2015) was a comparative study of the "enabling environments" that states create for businesses and associations; it found that businesses generally get much more favorable treatment.[18] Kiai has also made six official country visits, to Georgia (2012), the United Kingdom (2013), Rwanda (Jan. 2014), Oman (Sept. 2014), Kazakhstan (Jan. 2015) and Chile (Sept. 2015).[19][20]

As of June 2015, Kiai has issued more than 90 press statements via OHCHR [21] and sent over 720 communications to UN member states.[22]

Retribution for Human Rights Work[edit]

Kiai has been subjected to threats and harassment for his human rights work.

Most recently, in September 2013, Kiai reported that “thugs” had come to his mother’s homestead in Nyeri and threatened to burn it down.[23][24]

In 2008, Kiai was one among several human rights defenders who received death threats, as post-election violence raged in Kenya.[25] A coalition of Kenyan civil society groups reported that they had become aware of a plot involving "a five- or- so man elite squad that has been tasked with the liquidation of, inter alia, Maina Kiai, Chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights."[26]


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