A delegation visits the Mombasa County Legal Aid Centre, launched by UNDP PLEAD partner Human Rights Agenda (HURIA) in collaboaration with the County Government of Mombasa, in March 2020. Civil society organizations like HURIA working to implement PLEAD are refocusing their work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo: HURIA).

An agreement has been reached between partners to refocus PLEAD - the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya - and programming is now underway to account for the complex and wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to justice in Kenya. PLEAD, a partnership involving the Government of Kenya, European Union, UNDP, UNODC and civil society, is co-implemented by UNDP and UNODC in 12 focal counties[1] and aims at improving the delivery of justice services, settlement of disputes and use of alternatives to imprisonment, with a particular focus on poor and marginalized populations.

Following extensive consultations with the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) on the needs of the judiciary as well as with the European Union and other partners, an agreement to refocus PLEAD was reached in April, which detailed the implementation of new interventions and fast-tracking of existing activities in order to better tackle the effects of the pandemic. Since then, UNDP and other PLEAD partners have begun implementing specific COVID-19 response strategies to bolster continuity and robustness of justice delivery.

UNDP engages civil society organizations (CSOs) to implement PLEAD through the Amkeni Wakenya CSO facility. As a result of the agreed changes to tackle COVID-19, UNDP's PLEAD CSO partners are being supported to shift from in-person community outreach work to production of information materials and to undertake grassroots sensitization campaigns around social distancing and pandemic hygiene via TV, radio, bulk SMS and social media. Additionally, UNDP is supporting the digitalization of legal aid and assistance services provided by PLEAD paralegals, particularly through videolink and hotline services, and helping CSOs explore other digital solutions such as production of apps and surveys of key populations.

“The revisions made to PLEAD support were necessary to protect and cement the progress achieved so far, while empowering all partners to accommodate the government’s nation-wide pandemic response measures and specific changed arrangements for the delivery of justice services,”  notes Wambua Kituku, UNDP PLEAD Programme Manager.

PLEAD CSO partners across Kenya have begun to undertake interventions to support target communities during the pandemic; among these are the following: 

  • In Kisumu, CSO-Network started an online facility to provide legal assistance and psychosocial support to victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). 
  • In Mombasa, Human Rights Agenda (HURIA) highlighted potential human rights violations by police in enforcing curfews, conducted a survey to assess concerns of their target populations in light of COVID-19, and produced information material to show demonstrate basic but essential hygienic practices important in the fight against COVID-19.
  • In the capital city Nairobi, Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) have set up video links between jail and the courts, resulting in several bond reviews and successful cash bail reductions. 

As well as the changes made to UNDP's programming, co-implementing agency UNODC is ramping up its support for the NCAJ and its Secretariat, including strengthening the overall response coordination mechanisms and assistance with regular COVID-19 response planning and coordination virtual meetings. UNODC will upscale its communications support for NCAJ and assist in enhancing collaboration among Council members to achieve a proactive, consistent approach to communicating the sector’s COVID-19 response. Partners have expressed their gratitude for the European Union’s flexible approach in supporting the individual and coordinated response of justice institutions to the pandemic. 

PLEAD is the most extensive justice programme funded by the EU in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is anchored in Kenya’s Vision 2030 to supports government reforms aimed attransforming the criminal justice sector for the benefit of all citizens. Under the PLEAD programme, UNDP seeks to respond to Outcome 1: Enhanced access to justice especially for the poor and vulnerable, focused on legl aid. This is achieved through collaboration with the Department of Justice through implementation of the new legal and regulatory framework on legal aid and engaging CSOs to provide complimentary legal aid services including raising awareness of the Legal Aid Act 2016, training legal aid providers, public legal education and establishing legal aid information centers. 

UNDP is helping countries to urgently and effectively respond to COVID-19 as part of our mission to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities and build resilience to crisis and shocks. In Kenya, UNDP is also leading an UN-wide effort to establish the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 – an initiative which will inform future development programming, particularly during the recovery stages of the crisis.


[1] Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Uasin Gishu, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Lamu, Isiolo and Marsabit. 

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