The Status of International Law in Kenya

Authors Maurice Oduor

ISSN: 2521-2613
Affiliations: Lecturer, Moi University School of Law, and Head, Department of Legal Aid Clinics and Externships
Source: Africa Nazarene University Law Journal, 2014, Issue 2, p. 97 – 125


In a major leap, the 2010 Constitution of Kenya recognises international law as part of the domestic legal order. This provides courts with the opportunity to seek inspiration from the non-municipal legal framework when resolving disputes. However, the manner in which the Constitution incorporates international law is ambiguous and confusing. It fails to create a rank that can be used to resolve conflicts between local legislation and a rule of international law. This lack of affirmation of the place of international law in the normative rank has spawned judicial interpretation that has accorded international law the same status as statute law. This not only diminishes the weight that courts should place on international law, but also provides courts with a certain amount of discretion whenever a conflict with an Act of Parliament arises. In addition to treaties ratified by Kenya, the Constitution also refers to ‘general rules of international law’ as being part of the law of Kenya. This phrase is problematic because, first, it is one not generally used to refer to sources of legal norms in international law. Secondly, it makes it difficult for courts to ascertain where customary international law falls within the scheme of sources of legal norms. There has been a general tendency to equate general rules of international law with customary international law in a manner that is strenuous and confusing. Because courts may not be best placed to devise an interpretation that affirms the content and nature of international law in the legal system, a constitutional amendment has become an imperative if the uncertainty is to be removed.