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Press Release: RE-VICTIMIZATION OF VICTIMS OF THE SHAKAHOLA TRAGEDY THROUGH CRIMINAL CHARGES

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

Press Statement: Nairobi, Thursday June 15th, 2023 For Immediate Release:

RE-VICTIMIZATION OF VICTIMS OF THE SHAKAHOLA TRAGEDY THROUGH CRIMINAL CHARGES
 

1.    The Commission’s attention has been drawn to media reports that sixty five (65) survivors recently rescued from the Shakahola forest in Kilifi County have being arraigned in court and charged with attempting suicide by failing to eat. Only recently, the Commission called on the government to prioritize and refocus its efforts on saving lives (rather than exhumations), by rescuing the survivors some of whom were fleeing for fear of arrests.
The Commission acknowledges the commendable progress by the government in rescuing the survivors and the ongoing efforts aimed at bringing accountability for these horrific crimes. The Commission has been monitoring the Shakahola situation and notes the immense trauma and vulnerabilities facing the Shakahola survivors and their families.
Charging the survivors with attempted suicide is inappropriate and will re- traumatize the survivors at a time when they most desperately require empathy, intense psycho-social assistance, rehabilitation and community support. Sending them to our already congested prisons shall further aggravate their plight including adverse mental health consequences.

2.    The Commission observes that the continued criminalization of attempted suicide has not and does not deter the practice, but instead exacerbates stigma against persons with mental health conditions, thus preventing them from reaching out and seeking help. The Commission reminds of the Government’s own policy commitments to decriminalize attempted suicide. Through Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Action Plan (2021-2025) and National Suicide Prevention Strategy (2021-2026) the repeal of Section 226 of the Penal Code which criminalizes attempted suicide remains a key intervention towards addressing mental health concerns and preventing suicide in the country.
 
3.    The Commission further points out that the Mental Health (Amendment) Act, 2022 provides that; persons affected by mental illness and suicidal behavior have the right to appropriate, affordable, accessible physical and mental medical health care; counselling; rehabilitation and after-care support.

4.    While respecting the independence of the investigative agencies and the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate and prosecute crime, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights:

1.    Calls upon the police and the prosecution authorities to desist from re-victimizing and re-traumatizing victims of the Shakahola tragedy by charging them or threatening to charge them with the criminal offence of attempted suicide, or other charges stemming from their vulnerable predicament;
2.    Urgently calls for the withdrawal of any charges of attempted suicide against the survivors of the Shakahola tragedy;
3.    Recommends instead that State and non-State actors enhance efforts towards counselling, rehabilitation and aftercare support including reintegration of the Shakahola survivors;
4.    Reiterates our call for the repeal of section 226 of the Penal Code;
5.    Urges for the implementation of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy (2021- 2026);
6.    Finally calls on both National and County governments to implement the Mental Health Act (as amended in 2022) including, creating awareness on mental health and rolling out community based and family programmes on early identification, treatment, rehabilitation and care of persons with mental health conditions.
 

Roseline DA Odede

Chairperson

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

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