Archive | August, 2011

Holding Up and Facing up to Torture in Kenya

8 Aug

By Javas Bigambo

Eleven Months after ushering in a new constitutional dispensation in Kenya, it is appalling that dehumanizing incidences of torture still occur, in spite of clear provisions in the constitution of Kenya 2010 that expressly outlaw torture. Interestingly, the face of torture is changing by the day. The architects of the vice are keenly reinventing themselves. In the human rights sector, we get cases of those who have been tortured by the police, those who have been threatened and intimidated. Threats create fear. We know too well that sufficient fear causes anguish, psychological instability and a complete disruption of people’s lives. Whether by design or default, torture is alive in Kenya, the new age notwithstanding.

The struggle for human rights is far from over. The day when Kenya will be declared as human rights compliant is not near. Not with trigger-happy policemen still being retained on the government payroll. The dirty little and brazen secrets of vigilance house of merely transferring the police officers who are known to have killed innocents must be brought into the light of public scrutiny. Torture is a moral issue which must be fought with both legal and moral means. Celebrating the newfound freedoms provided for in the Bill of Rights in the Kenya constitution is not enough. True transformation involves the moral questions of justice and respect fro human life. That is why the debate on torture with duty bearers has easily become acrimonious and contentious, with the perpetrators playing mere public relations with the matter.
Kenya must face up to torture in ideology and practice. The stubborn and persistent denial by the police on the existence and changing faces of torture is a defense that is deficient in logic. Recent cases of human bodies that were found in Kajiado, shot and disfigured (and some dismembered) with acid points to the lesser appreciation of human dignity and seriously undermines the respect for life.

It is proper to remember that physical torture was the order of the day during the Moi era. Of course the strappado of the KANU regime and the evils of Nyayo house will never be forgotten. But the age of freedom has not seen an end to acts of torture. What explains the more than 20 new cases of physical torture and extrajudicial killings reported at IMLU since the beginning of the year 2011? What of those reported at KHRC and KNCHR? It is therefore not remote to argue that acts of state perpetrated torture are a reflection of the knowledge and training among police officers that shows a lack of requisite human rights training at the Kiganjo police training college.
So it is manifest that acts of torture have their origins in the psyche and mindsets of the perpetrators. We don’t need laws and policies on human rights that are incongruous with practice.

Up until we have a firm grip on the causal root of torture, which of course stems from deficient police training, it would be difficult for all of us in the sector to understand the magnitude of what we are dealing with. When we gladly talk about African Renaissance, we are making reference to leading and reinventing Africa at policy level. Those policies in respect to human rights must inform law and common practice especially among the police and the administration of justice. We all have an interest in a stable country where the poor, like the rich, are happily at ease and justice is the garment of mutuality that ties them together. So it will take much more than policies and good laws to root out human rights violations including torture in the Kenyan system. It calls for heightened vigilance by the rights-based organizations, a seriousness and commitment on the part of the nation’s leadership starting with the president, and a judiciary that expedites justice for victims. Measures must be put in place too such that those awarded compensation by the courts of law to quickly access their money.