It has been 25 years of fighting against torture for IMLU
16 May 2019

It has been 25 years of fighting against torture for IMLU

The Independent Medico Legal Unit was founded by a doctor and a lawyer in 1995, as an ad hoc voluntary facility whose first work centered on prisons to address cases of politically instigated violence along ethnic lines in the Rift Valley and victims of State despotism, cruel and inhumane treatment; thereafter moving to cases reported in police custody. The work became overwhelming for the two, necessitating their calling for support from doctors from the Kenya Medical Association and lawyers from the Law Society of Kenya. The organization later begun medico-legal documentation, gradually expanding to rehabilitation, advocacy and reforms especially in the security sector.

“We started out as an informal network of volunteers and often around the kitchen table. From time to time we would volunteer in far flung areas in the country; we are grateful that much of our success was based on our networks with the Kenya Medical Association and the Law Society of Kenya, to which 25 years later, our doctors and lawyers are members.”- Dr. Ling Kituyi, one of the founders of IMLU.

Ours has been a journey

In the past years, IMLU has produced evidence based research reports and surveys that are informative in defining a roadmap towards reforming the police. The "National Torture Prevalence Survey, 2011 and 2016" clearly illustrates the fact that state perpetrated torture remains prevalent in Kenya.

In 2011 and 2016 63% and 64.1% of the respondents respectively identified the regular police as the main perpetrators of torture and ill treatment. In yet another IMLU publication- "Violence amongst the Urban Poor Nairobi" 70% of the incidences of torture were attributed to the Kenya Police (Regular Police).

Other publications include "Our Guns: Our Security: Our Dilemma" and "A Cry for Justice: Torture and ill-treatment of Hawkers and Small Scale Traders in Nairobi City County", which highlight key gaps in the state security apparatus related to policy, institutional practices and made essential recommendations to guide the police reform agenda.

In 2015, we embarked on a program on police-public partnership in public safety and security, a key pillar in the police reforms. The focus was to support Nyeri, Nakuru and Isiolo Counties to establish the County Policing Authorities (CPAs) which cascade down to the County Policing Committees (CPCs) and County Forums (CPFs) at the lowest levels. The aim of the project was to set up a citizen platform to work with the respective counties in promoting citizen-centered policing.

Community policing has improved the relationships between police and the public in Nyeri; this is evident through the community voices’ whole undertaking a monitoring and evaluation exercise in all the nine stations. This has seen improved service delivery. The public have now a deeper understanding of their role in policing.

“Nyeri is no longer the same. We have learned a lot about security; we are able to interact easily with the police. I can share a lot on security with women groups where I am a member. I encourage them to interact freely with the police” Margaret Nyathogora, CPA member, Nyeri County. Adding that the main problem was the fear the public had towards the police.


Recently, the PRWG-K was admitted to the Multi-Agency Policing Reforms Task Force by the Ministry of Interior under which the National Police Service falls, as a key player in the security sector reforms. As a result, we have had several meetings with other stakeholders and that culminated in major reforms at the National Police Service (NPS) this year (2018) and which included the issue of welfare for police officers.

We initiated a litigation case against the Government of Kenya in the wake of human rights atrocities caused by the armed forces in Mt Elgon; we were able to create interests and sensitised various actors on the case and this enabled IMLU gain the support of other human rights actors in the country and in the region. Some of these included the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), based in Tanzania.

The support has also enabled us take critical analysis of our systems and overall work. For instance in 2012, we subjected ourselves to a holistic peer review exercise in the Civil Society of the Year Awards (SOYA) and which interrogated including inter alia clarity of purpose, corporate social responsibility and our governance systems. Overall, we emerged the first runners up and this was contributed to the advocacy strategies we had employed to highlight cases of torture and efforts towards reforms, with the support from KIOS.

Through this support, we have also spearheaded a number of studies which indicate that the scale of torture remains high with the police being the main perpetrators. In a nutshell, the drivers of torture include but are not limited to; culture of impunity and corruption, weak legal frameworks that address issues of torture, poverty and associated vulnerabilities, discrimination and sectarianism especially for persons with different sexual orientation. However, with the President’s assent to the Prevention of Torture and National Coroner’s Service Bills in 2017 turning them into laws, the country now has great hopes in advancing the response to cases of human rights violation, but also on issues of accountability on the part of the state and state agents.

With these changes still, there is need for continued innovative responses founded on the right legal environment. Cognisant of the above, we have overseen a number of dynamic interventions targeted at prevention and response through holistic service delivery. These include the launch of the mobile application dubbed “Ripoti” (Swahili word for the verb ‘report’) in a bid to leverage on technological advancements in encouraging the general public to report cases in a more secure and effective manner and to increase monitoring of police conduct.

Externally, IMLU has worked with various international mechanisms and made case for Kenya at the UNCAT. We are currently finalising an alternative report that will be presented in Geneva to assess the human rights situation in Kenya.

Lisa Wangari, one of the torture victims, (holding microphone), narrates her ordeal in the hands of police officers during the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26,2018. IMLU provided her holistic support and that lead to the court awarding her Ksh.9M in 2013, an amount that has not been fully disbursed to her to date.

As part of our success and with the help of experts, we also managed to develop and launch the first ever Forensic Medico-Legal Manual for East Africa. The manual has attracted a lot of interest especially from stakeholders who are interested in the field some of which include the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), the Internal Affairs Unit of the National Police Service and the Law Society of Kenya (LSK).

To this end, we have trained the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) officers on the forensic medical documentation and how to work with forensic experts in investigations. This paved way for discussions on the need for entrenching forensic training at the NPS training colleges and adoption of best practices on forensic documentation in Kenya.

Through this journey, we launched our 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, christened Vision 2021, and that anchors our operations on building movements. This calls for more a departure from ‘transactional’ relationships and networks to one that focuses on service delivery and service to humanity. In this line, we have partnered with the Social Justice Centres’ Working Group in a bid to build the capacity of human rights defenders across the major informal settlements in Nairobi.

By Hilda Nyatete & Steve Biko

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