The UN Human Rights Council has issued a series of recommendations to help put an end to torture in Kenya and to provide reparations to victims. The Kenyan government has accepted these recommendations and must now work with civil society to implement them.
Bringing Perpetrators to Justice
In Kenya, police routinely torture suspects to punish them or to get them to confess to a crime they may or may not have committed. Despite the widespread use of torture, no police officer has been prosecuted for their crimes, leading to an environment where police continue to use torture because they can get away with it. The UN called on Kenya to punish those who commit torture to send a clear message that torture is unacceptable.
“The Kenyan government have made progress in recent years to ensure prevention of torture and extra judicial killings but there is more to be done,” said Kevin Mwangi, Programme Officer at the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), a Kenya-based IRCT member centre. “We now urge them to work with civil society to take the next step forward and implement the UN’s recommendations.”
Kenya also has one of the highest rates of killings by law enforcement officials in Africa according to a report released by Amnesty International. However, police lack the necessary training to properly handle evidence in the crime scene, which can be used in courts to hold perpetrators accountable. To address this, the UN recommended that the Kenyan government establish an independent forensic department to ensure that evidence from crime scenes is handled according to international standards.
Reparations for Victims
The UN also called on the Kenyan government to provide rehabilitation and compensation to victims of torture and extrajudicial killings. While Kenya’s national anti-torture law does contain provisions guaranteeing reparations for victims, in practice, securing compensation is extremely difficult. Rehabilitation is also almost exclusively provided by civil society organisations such as IMLU, who are struggling to cope with the demand.
“We spend a lot of time in courts to try to get compensation and rehabilitation for victims of torture,” continued Mr Mwangi. “But the process lasts many years and the outcomes are uncertain. Many victims therefore prefer not to go to court at all. The consequence is that many of our clients continue to suffer while they search for justice and healing.”
The violence that marred the 2007/2008 general election in Kenya resulted in deaths of over 1000 people and the torture and ill-treatment of thousands more. In response, the President of Kenya made a declaration to set up a Restorative Justice Fund in order to provide compensation to the victims and their families. Unfortunately, the fund has not yet been set up.
For nearly three decades, IMLU have been providing lifesaving rehabilitation services to victims of torture and fighting for their rights in courts in Kenya. According to IMLU, torture thrives in Kenya and victims continue to suffer because systems to ensure reparation for victims are either not effective and efficient or have not been set up at all. The economic precarity often exacerbates the mental and physical pain brought about by trauma and its impact often impacts the victim’s family too.
“This is why it is so important for the government to act now,” continued Mr Mwangi. “We must and can stop this spiral of suffering and ensure that justice is realised for victims of torture.”
For more information
On 23 January 2020, Kenya had its human rights record reviewed by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council. During the review, the member States of the UN scrutinised the human rights situation in Kenya and made recommendations on how it should improve.
The UN Human Rights Council made 17 recommendations – all accepted by the Kenyan government – relating to the situation of torture and ill-treatment. The recommendations included calls for the Kenyan government to fully implement the Prevention of Torture Act, to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, to ensure that international standards on forensic medicine are applied in criminal investigations, and to ensure that victims of torture receive redress and rehabilitation.
In the build up to the review, IMLU travelled to the UN in Geneva and briefed diplomats from 16 States on the key issues relating to torture in Kenya and explained how they could assist local civil society partners advance the fight against torture and help victims rebuild their lives.