New Internationalist

Torture recompense comes to Kenyans

Issue 453

Maina Waruru celebrates payouts for persecuted activists on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

AGENDA

An item from the Agenda section of the magazine, where we look beyond the news curve with reports and comment on breaking stories.

The regime of ex-president Daniel Arap Moi arrested Waweru Kariuki in the late 1980s. A political activist, he was held at the infamous Nyayo house torture chambers, where police tried to make him confess to belonging to the underground Mwakenya movement, which was then championing democracy in Kenya.

Life was never the same again. Kariuki lost his post as an hotelier in the resort town of Mombasa and, 25 years later, has yet to fnd another job. Micro-enterprises like a food kiosk have failed to yield a stable income. His family has led a life of poverty as a result – two of his four children have missed out on secondary education, and they struggle to meet pressing needs such as medical bills. Living alone in the capital, Nairobi, Kariuki has led a hard life.

AP Photo/ Sayyid Azim
Democracy activists were outlawed under Moi. AP Photo/ Sayyid Azim

But this may be about to change. Kariuki is among thousands of Moi- era torture survivors taking advantage of Kenya’s reformed judiciary to pursue compensation – however modest – for torture and subsequent loss of income. Since December 2011, the courts have paid out sums ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 to more than 20 people.

‘The awards are not enough to make up for the pain or even for lost opportunities, but they will help alleviate some suffering,’ agrees Kariuki, now 50, who expects his claim will be resolved by August this year. He praises the work of the Mwatikho Torture Survivors Organization, which is at the forefront of fghting for justice for Nyayo torture victims, as well as the new chief justice Willie Mutunga, himself a torture survivor, for pushing for the victims’ cause.

Kariuki hopes that Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, a wider process investigating historical abuses, will demand an apology and recognition for all ex-political prisoners and stop similar persecution from taking place ever again.

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