What you need to know:
- The National Police Service Act 2011 prohibits and provides sanctions against officers who perpetrate torture and cruel and inhuman treatment.
- The general violation of human rights ends up in both physical and psychological torture for the victims.
- We need to collectively shun and condemn torture as a people for its demerits far outweigh any advantage.
Today’s United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture commemorations come as Kenya’s implementation of the law against torture, the Prevention of Torture Act 2017, is, ironically, pending despite stakeholders having pushed for it for more than five years.
Kenya is just among the handful of African countries that have made such legislation: Uganda has the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012 and South Africa the Prevention of Combating and Torture of Persons Act 2013.
Article 25 (a) of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution safeguards every Kenyan against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
This right cannot be derogated under any circumstances, not even in times of war.
Additionally, the National Police Service Act 2011 prohibits and provides sanctions against officers who perpetrate torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT).
But despite all these provisions torture persists, though we no longer talk about the Nyayo House torture chambers.
The ‘National Torture Prevalence Survey 2016’ report commissioned by the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) ranks Kenya Police officers as the highest perpetrators of torture in the country at 59 per cent, followed by their Administration Police colleagues (18 per cent).
At the grassroots level, chiefs and county government officials are ranked at 13 per cent and eight per cent, respectively.
The general violation of human rights, for instance, ends up in both physical and psychological torture for the victims. We read in the afore-mentioned report about people who have lost loved ones to organised gangs and security officers: The Willie Kimanis, Baby Pendos and Evans Njoroges. Families are left reeling in pain and with psychological melt-down and little support from the State.
The General Comment No. 4 on the Rights to Redress for Victims of Torture and other Ill-Treatment under Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, which Kenya adopted early last year becomes pivotal in such instances. It requires signatories to ensure a victim-centred approach to redress and emphasises the ultimate goal of redress and reparation as that of transforming and providing healing for torture victims.
With the advancement of technology, torture is gradually shifting from the physical form to more advanced ones such as cyberbullying. A simple text message can torture you psychologically.
Think about the Nairobi “Hessy”, who parade images of suspected thugs on social media before they are shot dead. What do the bereaved families feel? This is not to support crime but, if we are going to shoot dead every suspected thug, of what use will our courts be?
But what is the cost of torture?
We all remember Operation Usalama Watch and the massive swoops across Nairobi's residential areas mostly dominated by Muslims in 2014.
It was criticised for its negation of human rights and physical and psychological impact on those arrested.
Caught in between alienation by the State and the allure of terrorist groups, some victims developed stronger resolve to join the Al-Shabaab.
For others, torture leads to the loss of loved ones. The courts were told how lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri were allegedly tortured in June 2016 before their deaths.
If the victims survive, as in other instances, they are normally left with traumatic and physical injuries.
‘A Cry for Justice’, a 2013 study by IMLU to investigate torture and CIDT among hawkers and small-scale traders in Nairobi, revealed that in some instances the victims were injured or lost limbs in altercations with city askaris.
The government, meanwhile, has always found itself being compelled by the courts to compensate some of the victims of torture millions of shillings with the highest amount, over Sh900 million, being recently awarded to the late Kenneth Matiba.
However, most cases go unreported for fear of victimisation, lack of civic awareness and some victims viewing it as a waste of time because, even if they reported, “nothing will change”.
We need to collectively shun and condemn torture as a people for its demerits far outweigh any advantage.
Mr Biko-Abuya is the assistant programme officer-advocacy and communications, IMLU. [email protected]