Friday, 17 May 2013

Torture allegations against Kenya not true, AG tells UN committee

AG Prof. Githu Muigai. Photo/FILE
AG Prof. Githu Muigai. Photo/FILE  NATION
Posted  Thursday, May 16   2013 at  23:27

The Government Thursday defended its report on torture to the United Nations saying some conclusions by members of the Committee Against Torture about the Kenyan situation were inaccurate.
Responding to questions posed to the Kenya Government delegation at the country’s second review by the committee, Attorney General Prof Githu Muigai said Kenya has a robust policy against torture and to suggest otherwise would be misleading.
“Comments to suggest that Kenya is a failing are not correct and out of context. That is not the truth,” said the AG who led the Kenya Government delegation that appeared before the UN team in Geneva.
“Kenya today is a beacon of hope for constitution and democratic reforms not only in Africa but worldwide,” he said as he defended the Government explanation of the Kenya situation on torture for the last four years.
The committee meeting at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at Palais Wilson in Geneva on Wednesday took the Kenya team to task, asking questions about specific cases where Kenya is seen to have failed to uphold the principles of the Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (the Istanbul Protocol).
CAT members said the Government has presented a glossy picture of the state of affairs in Kenya which is a stark contradiction to the reality on the ground judging by reports it has received from alternative sources.
Responding on behalf of the Government, Prof Muigai said Kenya has a new Constitution which has laid the foundation for various institutional reforms.
“We are probably the only country in the world that has vetted its judiciary and asked every judge to reapply. Any suggestion that such our country is a failure could only be lack of sufficient information on the subject matter,” he said.
The AG said delays in enacting legislation relevant to torture was due to a heavily loaded constitutional implementation calendar in the last two years and the tight deadlines that were attached to it.
“The reason therefore why the Prevention of Torture Bill has been placed alongside other pending legislation without prioritization is because the Constitution itself prioritized legislation. We are now ready within the new administration to begin to prioritise the Anti-Torture Bill among others,” he said.
He also mentioned focus on the 2013 general election as the other reason that had put the constitutional bills on the priority list.
“I want to draw the attention of the committee to the fact that the period under review was characterized by not only preparation for Constitutional bills but also the preparation for the first election under the Constitution,” said the AG.
“Our collective energy as a government and as a nation therefore went into this effort and we are happy this process was peaceful, transparent and fair and disputes arising were resolved within the process of law,” he said.
However, committee member Mr Satyabhoosun Gupt Domah said the UN committee’s concern remains-that the Prevention of Torture Bill is still on the waiting list.
“We do understand that you concentrated your energies on the Constitution and that is commendable, but we also have got a mandate and you have got to answer for that one. That is the mandate you have come to answer here for and we are hoping to hear very soon that it has been passed and it is in operation,” he said.
The AG dismissed comments that prisoners are routinely mistreated, clarifying that the death penalty has not been carried out in the country for more than 26 years.
“Indeed if you visit our prisoners, this category of prisoners is well treated,” he said at the two hour session that kicked off at 4 pm Kenyan time.
He argued that it would be misleading to conclude that Kenya is faring badly on addressing torture because it lacks specific legislation for that.
“It appeared to us that there was an innuendo that failure to have a specific piece of legislation meant that Kenya does not punish for torture. That is inaccurate, that is untrue,” he said.
He said the Constitution of Kenya recognizes the freedom against torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. “Therefore in Kenya we routinely try in our courts cases that are related to torture,” he said.
Local and international Non-Governmental organisations submitted reports to the UN committee which the team used to assess Kenya’s progress in implementing provisions of the Convention Against Torture.
Among others, the government was required to respond to claims of abuse of police power and explain to the committee how it has demonstrated commitment towards conducting investigations of extra-judicial killings perpetrated by police and other law-enforcement agencies.
In a joint report to the UN team, NGOs note that there are no tangible measures put in place yet to effectively respond to societal demands for justice in relation to the elimination of torture, cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.
“The ways in which lives were being lost before the promulgation of the Constitution still are being perpetrated by state officials, in particular the law enforcement agencies,” the report says.
The groups mention enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, intimidation and threats, detention of women in labor wards as some trends of torture by state officials.
According to the report by the five civil society groups, over 60 per cent of Kenyans believe that torture is still very common in the country.
The AG, however, insisted that Kenya has made tremendous progress and that the Government has taken actions to promote and protect human rights in the country.
He said the new administrative will prioritise legislation to effect the provisions of the Convention Against Torture by prioritizing relevant legislation and reforms.

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