Letter Urges President Obama to Support African Civil Society During Visit to Continent

(Washington, D.C. | July 14, 2015) Today, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, together with Front Line Defenders, Open Society Foundations, and the World Movement for Democracy, delivered a letter to President Barack Obama (attached below), welcoming his decision to once again visit the sub-Saharan Africa region. The letter highlighted particular human rights concerns in both Kenya and Ethiopia — the two stops on the official visit — and called on President Obama to meet publicly with pro-democracy and human rights activists from both countries. The letter received the full endorsement of more than 50 civil society organizations from around the world, as well as local human rights groups from across the African continent.

“President Obama’s upcoming visit to Sub-Saharan Africa is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the brave activists who have risked their lives for the protection of human rights,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “At a time when the human rights situations in Kenya and Ethiopia are worsening, the United States government must demonstrate that it stands on the side of the good and the just and that respect for human dignity remains at the core of its foreign policy.”

Several supporting organizations will co-host a human rights forum later this month in Nairobi that will coincide with President Obama’s visit to Kenya, including participation from prominent human rights defenders from the East and Horn of Africa region. The two-day event will seek to raise attention about the evident crackdown on civil society groups in the region, including issues related to shrinking civic space, repressive anti-NGO laws, and the declining respect for basic civil liberties.

“The United States has a vital role to play in helping to protect civic activists in Africa and across the world,” said Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights. “Universally recognized human rights standards, which includes respecting the legitimacy of civil society actors, should inherently guide U.S. relations with Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as with the international community writ large.”