Human rights violations persist - lawyers


KENYA: Human rights violations persist - lawyers

NAIROBI, 2 February (IRIN) - Kenyan lawyers said on Tuesday that human rights violations had continued, despite the government's earlier pledges that it would strive to entrench respect for civil liberties.

"As part of its election platform the new government promised to eliminate violations of human rights, which the previous government had not managed to bring under control," the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) said in its 2004 human rights report. "Despite this policy commitment, cases of human rights violations have continued."

The Kenyan government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, denied the charge, saying the country was now more democratic than it had been two years ago, and the government was introducing reforms in the police force to make it more aware of human rights issues.

"Mechanisms have been put in place for people to launch complaints whenever their rights are abused," Mutua told IRIN on Wednesday. "We have opened up democratic space; we are reforming the police."

The LSK noted that Kenya had made some progress in 2003, when it set up the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, and parliament passed the Children's Act, designed to ensure the protection of minors, as well as the Disability Act, which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of

"We have made progress, but we are not yet in the promised land," said Patrick Kiage, a member of the LSK executive council, during the launch of the report.

The LSK criticised the government for failing to curb the frequent extrajudicial killings and torture of suspects by the police. "The gunning down of suspects by the police continues to be the norm," it noted. "This practice is the result of the police force's disregard and disrespect of the sanctity of human life, and legal provisions that give the police uncontrolled power, which they abuse."

According to the report, Kenya had "shown hesitation" in committing itself to the abolition of the death penalty, although capital punishment was last carried out in 1987. "This means that a de facto moratorium [on legal execution] has been in force in the country for 17 years," the Society remarked.

In February 2003 the hanging of several condemned prisoners was suspended, and 281 convicts who had been on death row for a long time were released. The president also commuted the death sentences of 195 others to life terms but, despite these decisions, the courts have continued to impose capital punishment.

"Living with the constant threat of execution has been viewed as constituting a cruel and degrading treatment and contrary to the right to life, and therefore a violation of human rights," LSK said in its report.

The Kenyan penal code provides for the death penalty for those convicted of murder and violent robbery. Delegates to a constitutional review conference in 2004 voted to retain capital punishment for murder, and said it should also be applied to criminals found guilty of raping children.

"We think that it is high time a debate on the idea of the death penalty was given another chance in Kenya," the LSK said.

The society urged the government to enact domestic legislation that would make all international human rights treaties ratified by Kenya enforceable in local courts.

Other common human rights violations in Kenya, according to the LSK, include torture, ill treatment of prisoners, curtailment of the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, exploitation of workers by employers and harassment of poor people engaging in informal economic activities.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Source: IRIN