Most established human rights organisations can trace their origins to simple, humble beginnings when the urgency to do something outweighed the risk.
Passion preceded resources and fire in the belly was more important than cash in the bank. This year, the Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) celebrates 30 years of service to victims of torture and human rights abuse.
It was born out of a response to detention and torture of suspects of the Mwakenya movement in Western. Its treatment and documentation centre were a spare room at the rear end of a medical facility in Westlands.
From then until today its mission has been; “To prevent and respond to torture and related violations to ensure healing, justice and accountability”.
Its inspiring founder, Dr Ling Kituyi, set the bar for other organisations in terms of investigation, documentation, medical treatment, forensics and litigation for victims. She established an advisory board that included Pheroze Nowrojee, Pravin Bowry, Dr Mohamud Said and yours truly.
Denied registration, IMLU operated under the auspices of Bungoma Professionals for a decade. It was only in 2003 that President Kibaki ordered AG Amos Wako to register the organisation. In the mid-90s IMLU helped many of us get autopsies and justice for victims of police killings in Turkana and elsewhere. But the organisation received national and international acclaim at the turn of the century when it investigated the deaths of six prisoners in King’ong’o Prison in Nyeri.
Prison authorities had claimed the prisoners died jumping from a high wall in a daring prison escape on September 3rd 2000. They were quickly buried, but IMLU had another more reliable source of information on cause of death. After consultation with the families of the deceased, they acquired an order to exhume the bodies.
The autopsies showed the six men were beaten to death. Nine warders were put on trial and in December 2008, all sentenced to death. The judgment was unprecedented in Kenyan legal history as for the first time Kenyans witnessed a group of state security officials being punished for crimes against innocent citizens.
Ever since, IMLU has maintained those high standards of investigation, evidence gathering, documentation and advocacy on behalf of victims of state torture. Last week, they presented their evidence and perspective on the first year of the Kenya Kwanza government in power.
They acknowledged that some progress had been made with the disbandment of the Special Service Unit (SSU) that had been responsible for the execution and enforced disappearances of hundreds of Kenyans. Establishing a task force on Police and Prison Reforms and granting financial independence to the National Police Service were also worthy of note.
However, in IMLU’s considered view, the overall performance of the Kenya Kwanza administration was dismal as regards democratic policing. And the main reason is that cases of torture reported to IMLU have doubled in the past 12 months.
In previous year, reported cases were 232 while in the 12 months to the end of August the figure had jumped to 482. Of that figure 128 are Extra Judicial Killings (EJK), 351 cases of torture and three cases of enforced disappearances. On closer examination, we discover 104 of the EJKs were slain during this year’s mandamanos.
Most victims were young men but what is glaringly obvious is no effort was made to curb brutality. Indeed, statements from IG Koome on the mandamanos indicated that the police will not only not investigate the killings but have dismissed the reports as lies.
Indeed, with the government investigation bodies like KNCHR and IPOA starved of cash then it is unlikely that they will follow up on the investigations. Yet, what was most interesting to observe is that no government agency disputed the facts and figures presented last week. As always, IMLU had done the hard work and presented the evidence at a stunned press conference.
Other organisations have done amazing work in exposing the assassin police squads and in supporting victims. But ultimately only evidence-based research can move this government first into silence and then hopefully into action.
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