Eric Gitari, Executive Director of NGLHRC

Human Rights Watch has called on the Kenyan government to allow a gay rights group to be registered as an NGO.

An application by the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) to register was denied in 2013 because the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordination Board deemed the group’s name “unacceptable.”

The board also said that it could not register the group because Kenya’s penal code “criminalises gay and lesbian liaisons.”

NGLHRC has taken the matter to the Kenyan High Court and the case is scheduled to be heard by the constitutional and judicial review division of the High Court on Thursday.

“The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission seeks to carry out basic human rights work, such as standing up for LGBT people who have been victims of violence,” said Eric Gitari, Executive Director of NGLHRC.

He said that the government is blocking the organisation from carrying out this important work and that it is violating “the rights to freedom of association and non-discrimination enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution.”

Without formal registration the organisation’s ability to operate is compromised. It cannot enter into basic contracts such as leasing premises or open bank accounts, and its ability to raise funds is curtailed.

There is some hope that the organisation will be successful in its court bid. In July, the High Court handed down a judgement ordering the Coordination Board to register another organisation, Transgender Education and Advocacy (TEA).

The court ruled that, “to discriminate persons and deny them freedom of association on the basis of gender or sex is clearly unconstitutional,” and that the board’s actions contravened Article 27(4) of the Constitution, which prohibits direct or indirect discrimination by the government.

The law in Kenya criminalises “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” commonly understood to mean anal sex, but no provision forbids people to be lesbian, gay or transgender or to associate in pursuit of common interests.

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