Kenya: Government must not replicate discriminatory, arbitrary nature of vetting in new ID guidelines

Published: 8/May/2024
Source: Haki Centre & others

The Government of Kenya has taken an important step,by recognizing ID vetting as discriminatory and acknowledging changes are needed to align the ID registration system with the Constitution. However, the government risks replicating the arbitrary and discretionary nature of vetting in the new registration guidelines.

Vetting has been systematic across the country for decades, imposed on ID applicants only because of their ethnic or religious background. Even when an applicant provided all necessary supporting documentation, he or she would have to appear before a vetting committee composed of registration and security agents that wielded unchecked power in determining whether applicants get ID documentation. An applicant could wait months or longer to appear before the committee, where he or she would face random questioning and excessive requests for documentation unrelated to citizenship as defined in Kenyan law, often leading to further delays or denial of ID cards.

On 8th April 2024, President William Ruto announced the intention to abolish vetting during the national ID card application process starting May 1, 2024. However, when the Ministry of Interior – State Department of Immigration and Citizen Services issued new registration guidelines on 29th April, 2024, the directives dissolved vetting committees while retaining an unequal and potentially arbitrary system for ID applications.

In the new guidelines, which apply only to border and cosmopolitan areas, Kenyans applying for an ID card must provide proof of name, age, and citizenship, which under the guidelines could be a birth certificate and parent ID card, among other options. These documents will be verified by the government as part of the process.

However, the guidelines go on to further require an introductory letter from the local chief, the applicant’s parent to appear in person to put their thumbprint on the form, the chief to re-verify the applicant, and the list of applicants to be passed through NIS and DCI. It is not clear why after an applicant provides genuine, government-issued documents to support his or her application – the same requirement for Kenyans elsewhere in the country – that there should be any need for further verification steps.

Vesting such power in chiefs and security agencies such as the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in ID application processes replicate current vetting practices. The new guidelines risk replacing the vetting committee with a process that devolves vetting into a series of steps with the same government departments, opening opportunities for continued arbitrary questions, requests, and denials – just as occurred with vetting committees. The guidelines, as currently issued, will not guarantee lasting protections for communities who’ve faced discrimination and have been locked in an ongoing struggle to acquire nationality documentation.

At the same time, the new regulations also burden chiefs and assistant chiefs with significant personal liability where undeserving persons end up acquiring Kenyan ID cards. This places a lot of undue pressure on chiefs and might lead to arbitrary denials even where an applicant has provided the necessary documentation.

Finally, the new guidelines do not address access to identification for millions of Kenyans who currently lack documents due to the historical injustice of vetting.

In light of the foregoing, civil society organizations and directly impacted communities urge the Government to implement measures for a lasting fix to solving decades-long discrimination in access to Kenyan ID cards, including but not limited to:

  1. End ID vetting and differential treatment of ID applicants in all forms. 2. Ground the process of acquiring identification in legislation and eliminate discretionary powers to trigger ad-hoc investigations or review committees. 3. For applicants providing the required documentary proof of name, age, and citizenship, verify the documents at no cost and issue ID cards without delay or extra steps.
  2. Implement affirmative action measures to issue identification to all Kenyans, especially those previously excluded from accessing documents due to the historical existence of discriminatory vetting.
  3. Expand the number of registration and identification offices and resourcing of these offices, especially in underserved areas of Kenya. The government must also enhance the number and capacity of registration staff in these centers.

We call on the government to seize this opportunity of reviewing vetting to fully eliminate discrimination in ID application processes and deliver a clear and lasting pathway to securing citizenship rights and access to identification for millions of Kenyans who have been locked in endless cycles of discrimination.

We remain willing to work with the Government of Kenya to implement the necessary legislative and regulatory changes that would guarantee an equal and fair identification system for all Kenyan citizens, no matter their ethnic and religious background or region of residence.

We will be monitoring the implementation of the new guidelines on registration to ensure Kenya’s ID system adheres to constitutional guarantees and offers safeguards against discrimination and denial of ID cards.

Signed

  1. Haki Centre
  2. The Nubian Rights Forum
  3. Paranet
  4. Namati Kenya
  5. Haki na Sheri Initiative

Read original: https://hapakenya.com/2024/05/08/government-must-not-replicate-discriminatory-arbitrary-nature-of-vetting-in-new-id-guidelines/

Themes: Discrimination, ID Documents and Passports
Regions: Kenya
Year: 2024