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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Kenya heeds calls for torture commission
Nyayo House
2,000 are believed to have been tortured at Nyayo House
The Kenyan Government is examining ways set up a commission to examine the cases of people tortured during the regime of former President Daniel arap Moi.

Many Kenyans are believed to have been tortured during Mr Moi's 24-year rule - 2,000 in the infamous Nyayo House in Nairobi alone.

Now a change of government has seen a promise to review what happened to them, and examine both whether any are to be paid compensation and whether their torturers are to be prosecuted.

"I think there is a broad consensus which is emerging that it is high time we appointed a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission," Kiraitu Murungi, Kenya's Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, told the BBC World Service's Assignment programme.

"One of the things we are doing is encouraging debate to give us some ideas on how to deal with this issue."

No high hopes

He said the commission would be based on comparative analysis with countries in similar situations, such as South Africa and Chile.

Corridor in Nyayo House
The insides of Nyayo House are now open to the public
"We have been in power for 100 days. The fact that we started thinking about it within these hundred days - we should get some credit for it.

"By June we should at least know how to set it up."

But he added that people should not expect too much.

"We have promised to give whatever interests that we can, but we have a government which is essentially broke and bankrupted," Mr Murungi said.

"We may not be able to satisfy all the demands for compensation in the country, and we would like to be very realistic."

Doubts

Although the Nyayo House torture chambers were opened to the public by the new government, with new president Mwai Kibaki stating that: "never again shall the people of Kenya endure such injustice at the hands of their own government," serious doubts remain about the government's real intentions.

Not only has no-one been arrested and prosecuted for these crimes, but some alleged torturers have actually been promoted - or even appointed to the new government by Mr Kibaki.

"It is true that Nyayo House torture chambers have been opened - big deal," said Beatrice Kamau, who represents People Against Torture in Kenya.

They had put acid in his body, so now you could not even tell it was him
Sister of torture victim Peter Karanja

"OK it was opened, but we expect to see these people taken to court.

"That is the only way some of the torture survivors can go through the healing process."

She added that she felt the new government was treating the issue too lightly.

"I believe that this government is not giving this issue the weight that it deserves."

Pro-west

The use of torture became increasingly commonplace after the 1982 coup attempt, after which Mr Moi began to become increasingly concerned about political opposition.

One example was Peter Karanja, who died in 1987 after being arrested on suspicion of being a member of opposition movement Mar Kenya, although he denied this.

Professor Mkangi
Professor Mkangi says the Cold War allowed abuses to continue
"He had wounds all over," his sister, who was taken to see the body of Mr Karanja after he died, told Assignment.

"It was so bad, and the people started taking pictures.

"They had put acid in his body, so now you could not even tell it was him."

Experts in Kenya say Mr Moi's regime was able to continue human rights abuses due to the global political climate.

"At that time was the Cold War, and most African dictators were able to get away with it because the Western powers defined them as pro-West," explained Professor Katama Mkangi, himself a torture victim.




SEE ALSO:
Moi's legacy to Kenya
05 Aug 02  |  Africa
Inside Kenya's 'worst' prison
04 Mar 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Kenya
05 Mar 03  |  Country profiles



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