Nairobi, July 7, 2020 - Last Thursday, Women's Link Worldwide, along with other 12 Petitioners, filed an urgent case against various several government officials in the High Court in Nairobi for failure on their part to provide information sought from them in accordance to Article 35 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and the Access to Information Act, 2016 in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic responses in Kenya.
The law obligates the State and public entities to provide information, both proactively and upon request, so that citizens can be informed of the State’s actions, participate in State affairs, and enjoy the rights protected under the Constitution. Although the right of access to information is always important, timely and accurate information is particularly important during a global health pandemic when the right to life, health and the freedom and security of citizens are at stake.
The Court has since certified the matter as urgent and given directions for the Respondents. The case was mentioned before the Court on Tuesday for further directions and orders.
The essence of this petition is whether the manner in which the government has kept critical information especially in its response to COVID-19 is constitutional. In particular, the Court is asked to decide whether the information sort was information that concerned the life and liberty of the persons, and therefore it ought to have been provided within 48 hours of the requests as stipulated by Section 9(2) of the Access to Information Act 2016.
The National assembly enacted the Access to Information Act, 2016 to give effect to the rights provided under Article 35. It establishes a framework for responding to information requests and disseminating information to the public. However, regardless of the Petitioners efforts to seek information on the various measures taken by the government in response to COVID-19, the same has not been provided.
In light of the extensive threat posed by COVID-19, the failure to provide the information sought has compromised the Petitioners and the general public’s rights to health, life, freedom and security of the person and the rights of women and girls to sexual and reproductive health rights. Under the Access to Information Act, information sought relating to the life or liberty of a person should be provided within 48 hours of the request which the Respondents to do.
What are we demanding from the Court?
- An order of compelling the Cabinet Secretary for health in consultation with the CEO of the Kenya Medical Practitioners’ and Dentists Council and other relevant stakeholders to update and re-publish the ‘Kenya Practical Guide for Continuity of Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Family Planning Care and Services in the Background of COVID-19 Pandemic’ (RMNH Guidelines) to include comprehensive information to health care workers and women and girls on the provision of essential services which includes access to all sexual and reproductive health and rights.
- A declaration be issued that the respective Respondents’ failure to proactively publish and publicize important information about the pandemic and the government’s response violates the right of access to information.
- A declaration be issued that the respective Respondents’ failure to provide the information sought by the Petitioners violates their right to freedom of expression.
- A declaration be issued that the respective Respondents’ failure to provide the information sought by the Petitioners violates their right to life.
- A declaration be issued that the Respondents’ failure to affirmatively provide information about the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response violates the right to life.
- A declaration be issued that the Respondents’ failure to affirmatively provide information about the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response violates the right to health.