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UN rights expert urges Kenya to protect four environmental defenders whose lives are under threat

GENEVA (24 February 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment,* John H. Knox, is urging the Government of Kenya to take all necessary measures immediately to protect four environmental human rights defenders who have been assaulted, subjected to death threats, and forced into hiding since they filed a law suit against a lead smelter earlier this month.  

Two of their homes have been burned. All have been threatened with death. The twelve-year-old son of one of them was kidnapped earlier this week and held for three days before being released on the side of a road. All four are now living in hiding. 

“Phyllis Omido and the other members of the Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA) are facing a life-or-death situation,” said Mr Knox.

“These human rights abuses undermine the ability of ordinary Kenyans to seek environmental protection without fear. It is vital that the Kenyan Government takes effective actions immediately to protect these environmental defenders from violence and harassment, that it investigates the actions and threats against them, and punishes those responsible,” Mr Knox stressed.  

In 2015, Phyllis Omido, the recipient of the prestigious Goldman Prize, also called the “environmental Nobel prize,” founded CJGEA to promote and protect human rights and environmental justice. Her three colleagues who are also in danger are Wilfred Kamencu, Anastacia Nambo, and Alfred Ogola. 

“These four people are helping to lead the way to a healthier environment in Kenya,” Mr. Knox said. “They should not have to risk their lives in order to defend human rights and a healthy environment through peaceful and legitimate means."

Under international human rights law, the Government of Kenya is required to protect their lives and freedoms, including by promptly and effectively investigating threats against them and by safeguarding them against harassment and attack.

“It has become all too clear in recent years that environmental advocates around the world are at increasing risk of harassment, violence and murder,” the Special Rapporteur said. “On average, three people every week are killed somewhere in the world, simply for trying to protect the environment on which we all rely. Kenya must do everything in its power to ensure that Phyllis Omido and her brave colleagues do not meet this fate,” added Mr Knox. 

Mr. Knox has communicated about this matter with the Government of Kenya jointly with other relevant Special Procedures mandate holders.


(*) Mr. John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The UN Human Rights Council appointed Mr. John H. Knox in 2012 to serve as Independent Expert, and reappointed him in 2015 as Special Rapporteur, on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The Council requested him, a professor of international law at Wake Forest University in the United States, to clarify the application of human rights norms to environmental protection, and to identify best practices in the use of human rights obligations in environmental policy-making. Learn more, visit:

Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Kenya 

For more information and media requests, please contact Soo-Young Hwang (+41 22 91 79 778) or write to srenvironment@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Bryan Wilson, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / mediaconsultant1@ohchr.org)

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