Suba Churchill

Executive Director of the Kenya National Civil Society Centre and Chairperson of the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum

Suba Churchill, executive director of the Kenya National Civil Society Centre and chairperson of the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum, which is a regional African network of civil society organisations that is working together to monitor and expand civic space in the countries in which the Forum operates: 


Testimonial of Suba Churchill:

I am a member of Kenya’s Universal Peer Review (UPR) process, and I can at best describe the National Risk Assessment on Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing for Kenya as a farce. 

Besides, I am also an active member of the Kenya NPO Coalition on FATF, a coalition of Kenyan NPOs that has been creating awareness of the FATF and its processes, including Risk Assessments and Mutual Evaluation Review since 2019.

In December 2014, the Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination Board deregistered 510 organisations under its regulation, 15 of them accused of links to terrorism. Some of them were even linked by the regulatory authority to the 1998 twin bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania while the others were deregistered for failure to file annual returns as required under the law.

On 7 April 2015, the government published in the official government gazette a list comprising 86 individuals and entities, including two human rights organisations namely, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and Haki Africa for what it claimed that the affected individuals and organisations supported terrorism.

In their defence, Haki Africa and MUHURI accused the government of targeting them for their important work documenting human rights violations committed by the security forces, including against individuals especially youth suspected of engaging in terrorism.

The court later absolved the two human rights organisations as indeed most of the 86 organisations that had been falsely accused of supporting terrorism.

The gazette notice gave the listed entities and individuals one day’s notice to demonstrate to the authorities “why they should not be declared as a ‘specified entity’’’.

Being declared a “specified entity” has wider implications beyond bank account freezes. Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) of 2012, “specified entities” are equated with “terrorist groups.” Membership in a terrorist group is punishable by up to 30 years’ imprisonment.

According to international standards regarding counterterrorism measures, governments should ensure a transparent listing and delisting process, based on clear criteria, with an appropriate, explicit, and uniformly applied standard of evidence, as well as an effective, accessible, and independent mechanism of review for the individuals and entities concerned.

The POTA does not provide a mechanism for appealing the decision of the committee, which may violate both the Kenyan constitution and international law. Article 47 of Kenya’s 2010 constitution provides for fair administrative action that is expeditious, efficient, lawful, reasonable, and procedurally fair. International law prohibits the imposition of government sanctions without adequate due process.

The Kenya NPO Coalition on FATF was initiated by the Kenya National Civil Society Centre and Muslims for Human Rights to mitigate some of these excesses of the State.

Consultation of NPOs has been done remotely, and without their knowledge of what one is being drawn into. I would like to use my own example to show how Kenya’s state security agencies are engaged in harassment of non-governmental organisations but claim that this was consultation on FATF standards.  

The entire process of the National Risk Assessment for Kenya on Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing in my view, has always been shrouded in unnecessary secrecy, and is approached by the concerned Kenyan authorities as (1) an investigation into an already established crime (2) in which the Not-for-Profit sector is presumed guilty until proven innocent despite the country’s constitutional provision of presumption of innocence until one is proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.In 2021 I was ambushed by a former colleague at the university who now works with one of Kenya’s State security agencies.  I was strolling along the beach after a day-long workshop in my capacity as a member of Kenya’s UPR process at the Travellers Beach Hotel and Club when I bumped into this former college-mate who happened to have been at the nearby Whitesands Hotel. Suddenly, he seemed unusually happy that we were meeting again after a long while. He invited me to join him and his colleagues at the poolside of their hotel. Very quickly, our conversation with him and his colleagues degenerated into what tended more towards an interrogation ensued.

Judging from the manner in which one of his colleagues was writing down every word I uttered almost verbatim, it was clear that they were extracting extremely valuable intelligence and important information from me.

After we finished, I went to my hotel and called my former college-mate to ask why we had had this type of strange official conversation at the pool with his colleagues and why one of them had been taking notes of everything I had said. He declined to explain, adding that it was a sensitive matter we could discuss in-person later. Later we met again over coffee. He explained in a rather low tone what their mission at the Whitesands Hotel had been all about. They had been at the hotel for three weeks conducting the National Risk Assessment for Kenya on Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing, and had been at a loss how they would “get some insights from the civil society on the matter”!

Rather than to have a process that assists the Government and its competent authorities to assign responsibilities for combating money laundering, terrorism financing and proliferation financing (ML/TF/PF) to the relevant line ministries/government agencies on the basis of the identified risks and vulnerabilities, the Kenyan authorities organised interrogations of civil society activists at the poolside!

I later learned that Muslims for Human Rights and Haki Africa were interrogated in the same way. 

The way the Kenyan authorities conducted the National Risk Assessment has not assisted in prioritising and allocating anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) resources efficiently to ensure that a larger proportion of resources are allocated to areas that present higher ML/TF risks.  

In fact Kenyan authorities did not contribute to the institutional risk assessments for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). These assessments are intended to support reporting institutions, such as financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions, in evaluating the effectiveness of their internal controls for AML/CFT, including the implementation of a risk-based approach. They did not prepare Kenya for its 2nd Round of Mutual Evaluation by the Eastern and Southern African Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) that was ongoing at the time, where strong focus was placed on the general understanding of the ML/TF risks facing the country and the application of a risk-based approach to mitigate the identified risks. 

Shocked at the revelation, the Kenya National Civil Society Centre (KNCSC) and the Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG) teamed up with Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) in 2021 in a process that culminated into a shadow report titled: Civil Society Perspectives on Kenya’s National Risk Assessment and Mutual Evaluation Review Processes.

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