February 16, 2006

Kenya torture victims call for compensation

By Jack Kimball

NAIROBI (Reuters) - James Kariuki squeezes past the Land
Rover blocking the entrance to the place where he says he was
tortured for 44 days by Kenyan security forces.

It is the first time he has returned to Nairobi's infamous
Nyayo House since the day he was released over 20 years ago.

"My whole life was ruined. I was evicted. I was shunned by
those people who knew me," the 48-year-old said. "Being back
here, the trauma I underwent comes afresh."

Kariuki was one of dozens of survivors, relatives of
survivors and supporters who gathered in Nyayo House on
Thursday to protest what they say is the failure of the
government to honor its promises to torture victims, including

"We are reminding the government that the survivors still
expect it to fulfill all its promises," a child of a survivor

Exposed metal bars from the reinforced concrete jut down,
seemingly pointing the way to cells in the basement of Nyayo
House, a 24-storey building in downtown Nairobi.

Rights groups say more than 100 people were interrogated,
tortured and beaten there from 1983 to 1996, during the long
rule of former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi. Some people
died, but no one knows how many.

Kariuki recounted how he -- under glaring, buzzing lights
that were on all day long -- was stripped naked and made to
stand in ankle deep water, not even allowed to sleep.

"You don't know where you are. You can't think," he said.
"I used to lean against the wall to try to hear the footsteps
that high heels make as a way of knowing it was night."


Kariuki, like many others, was accused of belonging to an
underground movement called Mwakenya, which was said to be
against Moi's government.

He and the other protesters marched to Justice Minister
Martha Karua's office asking her to fulfill the government's
promises to turn Nyayo House into an "international monument of
shame" and compensate victims.

Karua was not in her office, but her spokeswoman came down
and listened to the protesters' grievances and said she would
try to organize a meeting with the minister.

The doors to the secret torture chambers were thrown open
in 2003 by the then new government of President Mwai Kibaki,
which said it wanted to reveal the criminal tactics used by its

Kibaki's government placed an advertisement in a local
newspaper to mark this week's third anniversary, but some
protesters saw it as an attempt to distract attention from
corruption scandals rocking the administration.

The ad contrasts two pictures. The first reads "Before" and
depicts a man with his hands tied behind his back, sitting on a
black chair that says "Nyayo House - Torture Chambers."

The second picture, with the caption "Democratic Space,"
shows a woman with arms outstretched. The ad says Kenyans
should commend Kibaki for bringing real democracy to Kenya.

"The government is using the advertisement as an escape
(from their current problems)," Edna Arati, a human rights
activist at the rally, said. "They want to be seen to be doing
something but they're not."

No arrests have been made so far in connection with the
torture allegations. Nor have any reparations been paid.