Arson Attack Against Kenyan Human Rights Defenders

On 13 January, human rights defender and Natalia Project participant Anastacia Nambo became the target of an arson attack. Photo: CJGEA.

Late yesterday evening, 13 January, Kenyan human rights defender Anastacia Nambo sent out a distress signal indicating she was in danger. Civil Rights Defenders received the alarm through our global security programme Natalia Project and immediately made contact attempts and alerted her closest colleagues. They rushed to the scene and confirmed that an arson attack had been launched against the well-known defender and her community. 

The attack should be seen in light of Anastacia and her colleague’s precarious security situation. They work for the Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA), an environmental and human rights advocacy organisation based in Kilifi, close to the coastal city of Mombasa. Because of their human rights work, they have been under severe pressure for a long time.

Shortly after the Natalia Project alarm was triggered on Wednesday, Anastacia’s colleagues could determine that the alarm was intentionally triggered due to the attack against the community where she lives. Several locations in the area had been set on fire simultaneously and the fire spread quickly. Approximately 15 houses were burnt down but due to readiness by Anastacia and the community, as well as by Civil Rights Defenders and our partners, community members could be warned, and no lives were lost.

“The Natalia Project alarm is what has saved the community. I was woken up by phone calls from those that received the alarm from Anastacia’s device. I was able to mobilise the response because of this,” said Phyllis Omido, Executive Director of the Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action, one of Anastacia’s colleagues.

Approximately 15 houses were burnt down in the arson attack on 13 January. Photo: CJGEA.

Years of Threats and Harassment

Anastacia Nambo, Phyllis Omido, and other CJGEA staff members have been threatened and targeted because of their work for many years, not least after the organisation filed a class action suit in 2016 on behalf of the people of Owino Uhuru community. The aim was to seek environmental justice against a state licensed lead smelter that polluted the community by releasing toxic waste over a long period, which in turn severely affected the environment and health of the residents.

Years of court proceedings finally led up to a verdict in July 2020. While confirming a very successful win for the organisation and the community members that had been affected, the threat level against CJGEA staff members escalated. It was clear from their observations that Anastacia, who resides in Owino Uhuru, was a prime target. She began receiving death threats and noticed unusual movement in the community.

”During the last few months, there has been suspicious movement in the community by strange youth. We made reports to the police. They attempted to cut pastor Anastacia with a panga. Threats to destroy the community were heard from this youth,” said Phyllis Omido.

Natalia Project Response

One of our primary methods to strengthen human rights globally is to partner with human rights defenders and communities that are under constant threat of attacks. The aim is to make sure that they can continue their important work without having to fear for their lives. Since 2017, Anastacia Nambo is part of our global security programme Natalia Project. The alarm is designed for individuals at high risk of being targeted because of their work. In case of an attack, the alarm is activated and a distress signal with a geographical position goes off. Civil Rights Defenders and a network of human rights defenders can immediately start investigating the situation.

Because of recent attacks and the increased threat level against Anastacia, she and her colleagues had made efforts to secure the premises. Being participants in the Natalia Project, they also have well-developed security protocols for how to act in emergency cases.

“This incident shows how quickly the threats and dangers for the Owino Uhuru community activists are mounting. It also shows the need for solid security planning. During the 13 January attack, all involved acted according to the Natalia Project plan in a remarkable way and we are very relieved that Anastacia and all other community members are safe,” said Marcin de Kaminski, Department Director at Civil Rights Defenders.

The arson attack of last night should be seen as one of many attacks against human rights defenders in Kenya. Civil Rights Defenders calls on local authorities to investigate the attack and to guarantee protection for those at risk.

About Anastacia Nambo

Anastacia Nambo is an environmental human rights defender and a CJGEA community champion in the Owino Uhuru community. The community has suffered under the effects of extractive industries that have left the community lead poisoned. As a community champion, Anastacia works to represent the community in forums and areas that require decision making that impact the community.

Working against these economically powerful corporates is often accompanied by threats and harassment. Anastacia Nambo has been subjected to attacks and death threats several times because of her tireless efforts to challenge power.

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