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The Struggle Against Torture in Prisons

The Struggle against Torture in Prisons

By Evaline Waweru

The reality of life behind prison walls dawns on an individual as soon as the prison gates are closed behind them. Contact and communication with the outside world remains as limited and illusionary. Sometimes, society turns their back on matters regarding prison or prisoners especially where they remain unaffected, with a salient and unassuming shrug…“they broke the law-that it was their choice to do so-and now they have to pay the price”. Be as it may, increased public awareness on issues surrounding inmates and prison welfare, it is important to ensure that those behind bars are treated as humanely as possible. Prisons, ultimately, are a reflection of the societies that create them. We deny inmates’ rights and the free ones too are in one way or another denied their rights even in their freedom.   

Kenya is lauded as having one of the most progressive Constitutions, one that safeguards even the rights of persons in prisons. The Country has further ratified a number of international treaties which strengthen the provisions in the Constitution. One of the key human rights issues that touch on life behind bars is torture, degrading and inhuman treatment, to which Kenya enacted a Prevention of Torture Act in 2017.

The Act provides basic guidelines for the prevention of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment in amongst other areas Prisons. Torture has been defined in the Kenyan Constitution as the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering on someone, including intimidation, coercion or punishment to get information. In Kenya, the prohibition against torture and inhumane treatment follows a long history of experiences and campaigns resulting to the enactment of the Torture Act 2017.  

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights was subsequently appointed to oversight implementation of the Act giving the Commission powers to investigate alleged violations of the Act, and call for information for any public or private body that will facilitate Monitoring of compliance with the Prevention of Torture Act.  Additionally, the commission is also tasked with the monitoring of compliance by the state with international treaty obligations relating to torture and cruel inhumane treatments, receiving reports from public entities with respect to the implementation of the Act, and advising the government on matters relating to prevention of torture.

As part of initial implementation process, the Commission has been conducting awareness training for prison officers and has so far conducted the same in Machakos and Kitui GK prisons. The training aimed at capacity building on the best practices of handling inmates without violating their human rights.

Critical to the training session, is the definition of human rights with emphasis on where they each apply to inmates and the extent to which rights cannot be limited. Other sessions addressed the Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) in prison management, the United Nations Standards Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (UN-SMRTP), introduction to Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, The Legal Frameworks on the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, and the Redress mechanisms for victims of torture and ill-treatment.

The various forms of torture that are commonly reported are the use of abusive language on prisoners, over restrictions on inmates in their cells, doing searches without following the principles of good searches, constantly using excessive force especially when beating the inmates without any form of justification, and starving of prisoners while on escort. Other forms of torture include prolonged work/labor, beatings, punishing a prisoner twice for one offence, conducting body searches in open places, forcing sick prisoners to work, and denial of right to appeal.

During the two trainings, a total of 70 Prison officers from both Kitui and Machakos GK Prisons were engaged.  

Categories: Penal Reforms
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