Committee against Torture begins examination of report of Kenya


Committee against Torture

The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the initial report of Kenya on the efforts of that country to give effect to the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Martha Karua, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Kenya, highlighted that, on coming to power in 2003, the current Government had closed down the notorious Nyayo House torture chambers in which many political prisoners had been routinely tortured by State agents. In addition, the Government had amended its criminal laws to protect persons from torture through the adoption of the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Act of 2007. Prior to those amendments, confessions from persons suspected of criminal offences were taken in police stations by junior officers. A suspect could now only make a confession either before a judge, magistrate or police officer not below the rank of Chief Inspector, and all such confessions had to be made in the presence of a third person chosen by the accused.

Among measures completed since the report had been submitted, Ms. Karua drew attention to the establishment of an independent Civilian Police Oversight Board; the operationalization of a Public Complaints Standing Committee to act as an Ombudsman to handle complaints against public officials; and the establishment and operationalization of a National Legal Aid Scheme and Awareness Programme to enhance access to justice, especially for the poor and vulnerable. Sensitive to the gender dimension of torture, Kenyan laws prohibited and criminalized female genital mutilation and early and forced marriages, as enshrined in the Children's Act and the Sexual Offences Act. In addition, gender desks had also been set up in most police stations in Nairobi and the Police Commissioner had set up a task force to investigate sex crimes alleged to have been committed by security personnel in the violence following the December 2007 elections.

Serving as Rapporteur for the report of Kenya, Committee Expert Nora Sveaass was concerned that Kenya had missed a number of opportunities since its ratification of the Convention in 1997 to domesticate or incorporate the definition of torture in its laws; one result was that psychological and mental suffering resulting from torture was not covered at all in Kenyan law. More information was requested on the regulations and time limits for pre-trial detentions, and whether individuals had to be informed of their rights. Another concern was the lack of protections for refugees, in particular against refoulement in cases where they might be subject to torture and ill-treatment if they were returned, and the situation of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia living along the border.

Xuexian Wang, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Kenya, was concerned about overcrowding in prisons. He had heard that, in practice, even the National Human Rights Commission had difficulty in visiting some of the penal institutions in Kenya and had been prevented from doing so by police. A particular concern was an apparent lack of measures to ensure prompt and impartial investigation into torture. According to reports, in the court cases alleging torture raised directly with magistrates, no action was taken on 80 per cent of those cases. Moreover, the National Human Rights Commission had reported that, between June and October 2007, police had been responsible for 500 extrajudicial executions. What was being done to investigate that allegation?

Rapporteurs and Experts were seriously concerned about what action was planned to address the numerous allegations of torture and abuse contained in the Waki report on post-election violence that had spread throughout Kenya in 2007, including widespread cases of gender-based violence and reports of gang rapes by police and members of the security forces. Other issues raised included police corruption; a high level of impunity for acts of torture and violence; a huge volume of police custody cases, which gave rise to the hypothesis that people were being held to extort money; and the very low age of criminal responsibility, which was eight years.

As Minister Karua was travelling back to Kenya tonight, she provided some preliminary answers to questions raised today on a number of issues, including joint actions by the police and the armed forces; the allegation by the National Human Rights Commission of 500 extrajudicial executions by the Police; the situation of refugees; actions to implement the Waki report; and the cost of P3 forms.

Joining the Kenyan delegation was the Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Maria Nzomo, and other members from the Permanent Mission. The delegation of Kenya also included representatives from the National Police, the Prison Service, the Ministry of State and Internal Security, the Attorney-General's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice of Kenya.

The delegation will return to the Committee at 10 a.m. on Friday, 14 November, to provide its responses to the questions raised today.

Kenya is among the 145 States parties to the Convention and as such it must present periodic reports to the Committee on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will hear the response of Belgium to questions posed by Experts on Wednesday, 12 November.