Nairobi — Election-related violence and the displacement of people are regular occurrences in Kenya, and thousands of families are affected by it every five years. But a bill tabled in parliament on 13 June seeks to compel the government to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Ekwe Ethuro, the member of parliament who tabled the Internally Displaced Persons Bill, 2012, told IRIN the proposed law would help the government and other organizations in handling the issue of displacement.
"In the past, operations to help people who have been displaced have been done without any legal direction," he said. "This law will ensure that any person dealing with an internally displaced person must do so within the confines of the law."
The Bill calls for a rights-based approach to dealing with internally displaced persons and the establishment of a fund to assist them. It includes heavy fines to be imposed on anyone who blocks the resettlement of IDPs, who embezzles funds and steals supplies intended for IDPs, among other things.
"Measures like a fund will reduce the long-term effects displacement has on people," said Ethuro.
Kenya has a history of displacement, especially during elections. In 2008, some of the worst electoral violence in years left an estimated 1,500 people dead and another 500,000 displaced - around 1,500 are still living in camps. Many are also displaced almost every year as a result of natural and man-made disasters, and despite government compensation, former IDPs often struggle to rebuild their lives.
"The publication of the Bill reflects the good intention of the Kenyan government to alleviate the suffering and provide robust solutions for IDPs in the long run," Henry Maina, director of Article 19 Eastern Africa, a rights group, said in a statement.
"The government must now go further in laying a proper legislative and institutional framework by adopting the draft national IDP Policy, which is comprehensive in addressing all phases of internal displacement and ensuring the ratification of the Kampala Convention."
A draft policy in IDPs unveiled in 2010 is yet to become operational.
Levitan Muriuki was forced to leave his home in Molo, in Kenya's Rift Valley Province, during post-election violence in 2008 and now lives in the informal settlement of Mathare in the capital, Nairobi. "When one is displaced, they are at the mercy of the government. At least that fund will help, but the government must ensure it has money in it," he said.
The temporary camps where IDPs lived were often unsafe. "You hear about women and girls being raped in camps because they are very vulnerable. I think if the law can tell the government that they need to make these camps secure, it will be good. It is terrifying to live in a camp without proper shelter," Muriuki said.
Cynthia Otieno's home was submerged by a landslide in Mathare in April 2012. "Healthcare is very important because people fall sick in camps, and particularly children," she said "I think when people get displaced the government should set up temporary health facilities in the camps."
Lawrence Mute, a commissioner at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said although the new Bill was progressive, there should be mechanisms for people to seek redress. "Many laws put obligations on the state, and they are helpful in realizing human rights, but there should be clear mechanisms for people to hold government accountable on its obligations," he said.
"One such [measure] is to strengthen intermediary institutions such as this [Kenya National Commission on Human Rights] to take action on behalf of people who do not have the capacity to hold government accountable," Mute suggested.
Land has sometimes been a contentious issue. "One... should not be removed from... [where they live] arbitrarily. An alternative place must be found, and people must be made to know that they will be evicted from places where they squat," he said. "Early warning systems are important and I think the Bill envisages that."
"People fight over land, for instance," said Njeru Gathangu, a former Kenyan legislator and the chairman of the Kenya Voluntary Development Association, a conflict-resolution NGO. "The government must work towards solving issues that are likely to foment conflict and cause displacement," he told IRIN.
"Nothing works better at reducing displacement of people than conflict resolution and equitable distribution of resources."
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]