The Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly sitting in Paris, France, on December 10, 1948. The formation of the United Nations three years earlier had been dictated by the devastation caused by the Second World War; a war started by Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
In coming to the defence of Poland, England and France took on Germany’s demented Adolf Hitler and a war that was to claim at least 60 million lives was born.
While the UN identified several human rights, over time, they have been narrowed down to just a few that affect our day-to-day lives. These include freedom from discrimination, the right to life, liberty and personal security, freedom from slavery and freedom from torture and degrading treatment.
A few decades ago, torture was a tool employed locally to keep dissenters in line and Nyayo House, despite its imposing majesty, is the living monument of torture in Kenya, for that is where those who stood up to authoritarianism were made to see the ‘errors of their ways’.
Today, there are some individual’s still chasing compensation for the grievous bodily harm and mental torture they underwent in the hands of the police in the Nyati and Nyayo House torture chambers.
Pointers to State intolerance globally are the restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of media, which Amnesty International noted in a 2009 report, was still rampant in at least 77 countries. Press freedom in Kenya is still just a concept. There are quite a number of graves where journalists running foul of the system have been interred.
The lucky ones nurse serious bruises and injuries. Kenyans are resigned to police brutality, against which the Government has not taken a firm stand. It is so bad that even the humblest of policeman in uniform evokes fear and loathing in equal measure. In some areas of the country, a police uniform has become a ‘death sentence’ as hardcore criminals and the police, some of whom are rogue, jostle for space.
In 2009 while on a visit to Ghana, Barack Obama, then US president, opined that “governments that respect the will of their people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable and more successful than governments that do not. Countries like Kenya” he added, “had a per capita economy larger than South Korea when I (Obama) was born”.
In a nutshell, poor governance has been our bane. According to Obama, repression takes many forms and even those countries that go through the motions of an election, as we do, still condemn their people to poverty.
He argued stated that “no country was going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy or if the police are bought by drug traffickers. No one wants to live in a country where the rule of law gives way to brutality and bribery”. Torture, extra-judicial killings and massive sleaze have no place in society today.
Last week, almost 69 years after the declaration of human rights, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Prevention of Torture Bill. A key highlight of the bill is the guarantee to citizens of the freedom from torture, cruelty and punishment; things which define our men and women in uniform.
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But while the bill of rights in the Kenya constitution 2010 guarantees freedoms geared towards the protection of human dignity, there is the possibility that the impact of the Prevention of Torture bill might not be felt beyond the president’s assent.
To say the Kenya Police Service has a bad reputation is an understatement, yet in light of an unchanged training curriculum developed by colonialists, one that seems to put emphasis on being ‘anti-social’, the need for a change of mind-set; a consequence of the Kiganjo Police Training College, cannot be over emphasised.
Policemen who have spent most of their time learning the art of brutality and putting it into practice at the slightest provocation will not change overnight because the president appended his signature to a bill. Re-training is essential.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights that has consistently decried human rights violations in Kenya now has a legal spine with the power of investigation which, if some legal technicality does not render impotent, would go a long way in exposing human rights violations and ensuring they are a thing of the past.
The police, as they are wont to in protecting their dented image, will no longer afford to simply deny such allegations and leave matters at that if the Kenya Human Rights Commission executes its new mandate with zeal.
Kenyans not only look up to KHRC to continue being their whistle blower, they expect it to be their defender since State largesse only comes towards the end of every five-year electoral cycle; dishing out goodies it grinds into dust soon as elections are over.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]