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Kenya – Attacks against HRD Chris Owala

51 received information regarding the brutal attack against human rights defender Chris Owalla in Kenya.

On 9 February 2024, the defender was brutally attacked by a group of more than seven armed individuals in Bondo Sub-County located in the Siaya County, as he was leaving the funeral of local journalist Dickens Ochieng Wasongain. The attack is believed to be a reprisal for Chris Owalla’s filing of several legal complaints before the High Court of Kenya against the County Government of Siaya on mismanagement of public funds.

Chris Owalla is a human rights defender who advocates for social and environmental justice. Chris Owalla has also campaigned against corruption and mismanagement of public funds since 2013, and has previously appeared on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), one of the local media outlets, pointing out that the county public service of Siaya lacked transparency and is not complying with the available legislations and laws guiding public participation. He further stated that engagement should start at the sector level and this should include stakeholders scaling down to the ward and village level. Chris Owalla serves as the Executive Director of Community Initiative Action Group – Kenya, which is a human rights, social justice and social policy organisation founded in 2005. He is also the coordinator of the Siaya Civil Society Network, a civil society organisation working in the western part of Kenya to promote good governance, transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs. Additionally, Chris Owalla is a steering committee member of Kenya Devolution Civil Society Organisations Working Group (KDCWG), a national umbrella platform of CSOs from the 47 County CSOs networks of Kenya. The overall objective of the KDCWG is to contribute to effectiveness in the implementation of devolution in Kenya and the fulfillment of the devolution promises as stipulated in the Constitution of Kenya.

According to the human rights defender, the attackers said that he was stirring up controversy for Siaya’s County Government and the Governor, and specifically referred to a court case he instituted against the County Government for irregular employment of staff. In 2020 and 2023, human rights defender Chris Owalla lodged several complaints against the County Government of Siaya, requesting that the core principles of budget transparency, public participation, and accountability be upheld in the recruitment process of state and public officers, as well as requesting an end to the alleged region’s illegal land grabbing by public authorities. The attack seems to be a reprisal for the complaints filled by the human rights defender in October 2023, and one of the armed men was reportedly recognized by the human rights defender as the driver of a local authority.

This is not the first time Chris Owalla faces retaliation for his human rights work.