Friday, December 5, 2014

Human Rights Defender: Leonard Otieno

Image: Leonard Otieno
Leonard Otieno is a Human Rights Defender in Kenya. A country that has seen many efforts for reforms in the human rights scenario on the one hand, while crusading against rampant corruption and bureaucracy on the other, the Kenyan social landscape has benefitted from Leonard’s work as a Human Rights Defender.

What is the Human Rights Scene in Kenya?
A proactive volunteering scene during all of the 1990s and early 2000s witnessed the entry of changes by many a Kenyan. This was a period of reforms, but these attempts at reforms have lately been betrayed by the fact men and women who fought for reforms before began to get absorbed and silenced by mesmerizing elective and bureaucratic political officers. In the process, they wound up defeating the effects of the former struggle for a free society that they were also a part of. Another issue is that there were pseudo-reform trends in realms such as political realignments which were fronted by seasoned politicians and political activists. This is overshadowing genuine reform concerns, thereby forcing human rights crusaders to remotely identify opportunistic political sides, lest they be over-swept by social relevance.

2. Can you tell us your story as a Human Rights Defender on field in Kenya?      
I am the pioneer founder of the Bunge La Mwananchi, a now nationally spread social movement that works as a voice for the voiceless, with my installation as its pioneer National Speaker in 2004. Since 2003, I have had a great deal of interest in grassroots human rights abuses in Siaya especially as violated by American Dominion Farms Limited at the Yala Swamp wetlands which include:

·         Removal of riparian communities from native sources of livelihood including; wetlands fishing, grazing fields, farmlands, water sources;
·         The illicit eviction of Yala Swamp Farmers from farmlands by crude ways including artificial flooding crop field and forcible evictions by the provincial administration and armed police force and private security;
·         Grabbing and privatizing use of public utilities like Roads
·         Erecting and manning of illicit security barriers and fences;
·         Environmental Aerial and ground chemical pollution;
·         Endless impounding of farmers livestock
·         Endless intimidating illicit arrest and malicious judicial prosecution of farmers and fishermen.
On a personal level, while in solidarity with communities in need, I have always been subjected to endless intimidating threats of arrest; illicit arrests and malicious judicial prosecutions; court warrants of arrest; police detentions without trial; court detentions; real armed attack from unknown thugs and as well from colleagues in elected leadership offices and even the withholding of my statutory allowances by leadership of the defunct County Council of Siaya.       

3. What have your major challenges been?  
I was often challenged in meeting advocate costs in court cases, in dealing with communities that are unaware of their rights, in operating in communities whose ignorance make them to even trust in the propaganda information sources of the same figures who are behind their injustices. I have also found myself with physical immobility and financial constrains thus difficulty in faster and timely responses in ascertaining and profiling of rights violation in the expansive Yala Wetlands environments. Financial constrains also impeding usual response to personal concerns notably seeking refuge in safe undisclosed temporary shelters in keeping me from harm including life- threatening ones whenever I am aware of its coming. Besides this, sometimes, I have had to deal with colleague leaders who are ignorant of their call in so far as their duty as agents of the human rights defender is concerned. 

4. Has the government or the security sector given you any difficulties or challenges in your path as a Human Rights Defender? Can you tell us about it?
Yes. I have faced endless police arrest and intimidation; lengthy malicious judicial intimidation and prosecution, Public humiliation from senior colleagues in leadership; withholding of my statutory allowances and pay, physical bodily attacks by colleagues in officially convened meetings of the defunct County Council of Siaya; the illicit outlawing of my official public meetings with the communities by the former Siaya District Provincial Administrators and area police bosses and backstabbing at the hands of the former Siaya Provincial Administrators and are senior leaders against my leadership.

5. What do you see as a solution to the issue, and how do you see peace unfolding in the region?
I believe that synergy in building on advocacy and awareness creation platforms in keeping with the Constitutional and Statutory spirit and letter in matters of rights provision is the surest way.