Katiba Institute conducted a two-day training (22nd and 23rd June, 2022) on self-representation that targeted Human Rights Defenders based in Turkana County. Trainees were drawn from the Kalokol Human Rights Defenders Network and Kakuma Human Rights Defenders Network – the two networks were formed as part of the interventions of the project that Katiba Institute is undertaking in Turkana, Lamu and Nairobi counties thanks to the support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Nairobi.
Self-representation is basically pursuit or defense of one’s legal right in a court or tribunal without engaging an advocate.
Self-representation skills are important for Human Rights Defenders because they are generally at risk of confrontations with the law. In this process, arrests and trials are foreseeable. By the nature of their human rights interventions on behalf of others, HRDs are ordinarily expected to be vigilant and zealous in the protection of their own fundamental rights and freedoms.
This is the situation for example when they get arrested and they have to protest against infringements on their rights. This call for the police handling the arrest, investigation and prosecution of HRDs (and of course other Kenyans as well) to do their work within the provisions of law since resistance to any violations should be expected. The police must also appreciate that only lawful acts are protected by the law and courts will often disallow human rights abuses brought to their attention during a prosecution.
The HRDs shared some of the challenges they face on duty. They include confrontation with State and law enforcement agents, harassments, misunderstanding and criminalization of human defenders activities. HRDs also Suffer blame and other liabilities because of the actions or misdeeds of the communities they work with, for instance, where a peaceful demonstration turns violent because of the action of a few people, not incited or even foreseeable by the Human Rights Defenders.
Where legal information is scanty, people working with the Human Rights Defenders may also be prone to commit other unforeseeable offences. Certainly, many of them are also poorly prepared for the legal challenges in their work. Consequentially, arrests and trial processes involving Human Rights Defenders do occur in multiple circumstances.