The International Convention Against Torture defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third party information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third party has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind by a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
Locally, torture has often been used as a means of coercing confessions or to punish and intimidate individuals who are usually advocates for progressive change in the nation’s political dynamics.
The 1998 report, Mission to Repress (1998) published by the Kenya Human Rights Commission indicates that torture often begins at the moment of arrest, effected on many occasions without a warrant of arrest and in breach of established, laid down procedures.
This use of brute force to coerce and intimidate is not a new phenomenon. The colonial regime in Kenya used torture as a tool for dispossession of citizens and suppression of political resistance.
For example from 1902, the colonial government put in place land policy measures which denied the Africans the enjoyment of their land rights, job opportunities among other means of livelihoods.
In 1885, when British colonials began building the railway line through the Nandi area, Koitalel arap Samoei, the supreme chief of the Nandi community, led an 11-year resistance against the move.
On October 19, 1905, he was invited by Col Richard Meinertzhagen under the guise of negotiating a truce, but was instead murdered alongside his companion.
His son, Barsirian arap Manyei (born 1882), was the Nandi leader from 1919 until 1922 when he was detained by the British. Barsirian was not released until 1964, making him the longest-serving political prisoner in Kenyan history.
The successive post-colonial governments of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi were equally adept in using torture as a tool for suppressing dissent.
Violation of the right to liberty, right to participation, freedom of association and expression provided the basis for arbitrary arrests and detentions and subsequent exposure to degrading treatment.
The first major violation was the brutal suppression of the Northern Frontier District (NFD) from secession during the so called ‘shifta’ war of the 1960s by the Kenyatta government.
At the same time was the banning of the opposition party, Kenya Peoples Union (KPU), and having its leaders detained in 1969.
It was under Mr Moi’s watch that the Nyayo House torture chambers became infamous. But this was not always to be.
In 2002, when the Kanu regime was ousted from power by Narc, the clamour for compensation for torture victims began.
To date, tens have been compensated by the state, with other cases