A case for mental health awareness as a means to access to justice

Aug 10-IPJDDying to be heard: Mental Illness impairs prisoners’ ability to articulate themselves during self-representation in court.

Our prisons are full of troubled minds…

Mental health care and awareness is deemed a luxury even for free citizens. The situation is especially dire for incarcerated persons. Stone walls and iron bars serve as a deterrent to proper mental health care provision, under the guise of proper retribution for past wrongs/offences.

Mental health conditions represent a different level of need altogether when compared with physical health needs among prisoners.

It is in light of the above that humane treatment of incarcerated persons suffering from mental illness is largely uncharted territory. Diagnosis of such ailments is often by untrained prison staff who more often than not fail to properly identify which mental ailment is suffered and subsequently, which proper treatment should ensue.

Some of the psychiatric conditions suffered by inmates include schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and last but most commonly depression. This is as reported by some human rights officers that work within Kituo Cha Sheria’s Prison Justice centres.

The presence of mental illness and access to justice do tie in together in several ways. First and foremost, it impairs their (psychiatric cases) ability to articulate themselves during self representation in court. The vulnerability of their mental frame does not allow them to anticipate or prepare well for such instances. Self representation in court requires a degree of self awareness i.e. during cross examination. Therefore one can only imagine the negative effect an afflicted mind offers in such scenarios.

Secondly, the thought process behind taking certain decisions whilst in the trial process is greatly impaired if one suffers psychiatric ailments. Decisions such as which plea to take during arraignment, plea bargaining, the decision to appeal or seek for judicial review become difficult and open to unwarranted external influence. This almost always leads to a negative outcome if such persons are not sufficiently guided.

Thirdly, such conditions generally deteriorate if left neglected and this is certainly what happens during incarceration or remand detainment.

One would say that some of these conditions indeed do develop specifically because of the inmates’ new found condition behind bars.

A key case in point depression– an internal assessment of the new found situation that the now detained inmate finds themselves in often leads to dark depressive feelings such as hopelessness, despair and discontent. Such feelings   often externally manifest themselves through  dangerous behavioural traits  such as attempts at  suicide, aggression towards fellow inmates and all in all reckless behaviour.

Knowing our own minds is difficult even at the best of times. This is more so for those suffering mental /psychiatric conditions. Assembling this insight should then encourage the appreciation of the need to assist marginalised groups of persons such as inmates and remandees- a group of persons for who mental health care is a remote luxury. Given the strong relation between mental health and criminal behavior, the public health system has a great deal to gain from better mental health treatment among inmates, particularly in reducing the costs associated with high recidivism rates.

It is our hope as Kituo Cha Sheria that during this year’s International Prisoners’ Justice Day, mental health will be an issue that is fully appreciated as a need that should be met. It is only on the basis of this realization that mentally/psychiatrically afflicted inmates will be afforded much needed   relief and sufficient care.

Stand in solidarity in support of prisoners’ human rights today!

By:

Samantha Oswago

AGCP-Kituo Cha Sheria

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Success Story of Harun G. Mwangi

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An elated Harun Mwangi (centre, in brown coat) receives the Judgement at Kituo Head Office.

Success Story of Harun G. Mwangi

ELC CASE No. 510 of 2012

Harun Mwangi heaved a sigh of relief after receiving a positive judgment from the Environment and Land and Court at Milimani, Nairobi issuing an order of eviction and a permanent injunction barring one Zacharia Karega who grabbed his plot from entering or interfering in any manner with the property that rightfully belongs to him.

The 73 years old, silver haired father of three from Kiambu County claimed that the parcel of land was allocated to him by the defunct City Council of Nairobi on 21st October, 1992 and he took possession but could not commence development due to lack of capital. As a result the ‘stranger’ entered into his land located in Kariobangi South sector VI, Nairobi in 2005, fenced it and put up temporary structures.

His efforts to have the issues resolved amicable using mediation came to naught as Zacharia the “land grabber” turned his back all the time Harun made an effort of reaching him. “I was then forced to look for justice in courts but getting a lawyer was a challenge since I could not afford to pay for the legal fees” said Harun.

Harun got referred to Kituo Cha Sheria by a friend and a close family member who had previously been assisted with labour matters. With a lot of excitement, he narrates how Kituo played a big role in ensuring he got justice.

“I can’t fail to be grateful to Mr. John Mwariri (Kituo Legal Officer), who after explaining my situation to; picked up on this matter. He helped me file this case back in 2012. He has been patient with the whole process that took six years.” In reply to this, Zacharia filed a statement of defense on 4th October 2012 claiming that he has been in possession of the land which he has developed and occupied since 1999.

Mr. Mwariri (Kituo Legal Officer) who was handling the matter filed a reply to defense on 25th February 2013 reinstating that Harun was the owner of the land. The case came for hearing on 21st March 2017. Zacharia did not appear. Harun presented his evidence and closed the case.

Judgement

Hon. Justice Okong’o on 21st June 2018 ruled in favor of our client in the absence of the defendant. He issued an order of eviction against the defendant, his family members, servants or agents, a permanent injunction against the defendant, his family members, servants or agents barring them from entering or interfering in any manner with the plot and that the plot rightfully belongs to Harun Mwangi. The judgment also stated that the defendants has up to 60 days to vacate and handover possession of the plot to Harun failure to which he will be subjected to forceful eviction.

This is yet another small victory for a Kenyan who had nowhere to turn but Kituo Cha Sheria- the people who care for justice for the poor and marginalized people in society.

By:

RCKM-Kituo Cha Sheria

Is the Law Effective in the Fight against Corruption in Kenya?

Opinion BlogIs the Law Effective in the Fight against Corruption in Kenya?

Literature review in the subject of corruption paints a picture of a phenomenon that is not only feared but also frowned upon. This may be because of its dynamic nature and ability to spread its tentacles through the social, political and economic spheres of society. Whether it is liked to a cancerous tumour or an enemy in the battle field, the bottom line is corruption is undesired. In Kenya, the conversation on the fight against corruption has lasted lifetimes. As much as corruption is not black in colour, it is one of the major attributes of the independent Kenya. Many pundits and political commentators have therefore openly attributed corruption to a bad colonial system Kenya inherited. While this may be true, fifty- years down the line, it is more of a very old and tired argument that helps Kenyans to blame other people for their mismanagement.

Historical records put the year 1956 as the first time an anti-corruption legislation were enacted in the country.  The Prevention of Corruption Act Cap 65 of the Laws of Kenya was enforced by a police unit known as the Anti-corruption squad up until 1993. This was because these were just preventive measure to protect the young nation from the dangers of corruption. However, today corruption has transformed into a vice causing irreparable damage to the country. Kenya’s economy is doing badly and she is in debt, she has institutions that are not trusted by the citizenry and a political class that either thrives in corruption or have failed in dealing with the vice.

Corruption is broadly defined as dishonest and illegal behaviour mostly by those in position of power. Acts like abuse of office, favouritism, sexual exploitation and bribery fall squarely within the domain of corruption. This article is dedicated to the law and how it has helped or may help in fighting graft.

The Constitution of Kenya (2010) is the first stop. Like any other written Constitution in the world, it lays down the governance structure, history and the aspiration of the people.

Kenya’s supreme law recognizes corruption and lays down the frame work to eradicate it. The Preamble to begin with, recognizes the aspiration of Kenyans and the values of intergrity and the rule of law. Article 1 gives sovereign power to the people of Kenya and not to State officers or people in power. Article 10 (2) further elaborates on the national principles and values of governance which include: transparency, rule of law and intergrity. Chapter Six on leadership and intergrity, sets out responsibilities for those in State offices, outlines a code of conduct, sets the rules on financial probity and restrictions on their actions. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 ultimately is set with separation of power both vertically and horizontally that gives checks and balance that prevent abuse and ultra vires use of authority hence prevent corruption.

Is the Constitution effective? The supreme law gives the general framework and guidelines- and to that end it is very sufficient. The only gap is with the areas where Parliament is required to enact legislation. The standards of legislations from Parliament seem to have watered down the anti-corruption agenda

Kenya has signed and ratified a number of International conventions on the fight against corruption. These include UN Convention against Corruption (2003), AU Convention on Prevention and Combating corruption (2003). Further, Kenya joined its East Africa Community partners in forming the East African Association of Anti-corruption Authorities (2007). These instruments make Kenya an international player when it comes to the war against corruption. There is however need to domesticate these instruments and implement the law and recommendations.

The Parliament of Kenya has also enacted a number of legislations that help in fighting corruption. The Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission Act, sets up the anti-graft body which is meant to teach, set policy, vet public officers and prosecute corruption. However, this body and the mother law have not been effective for lack of capacity and insufficient political goodwill.

As much as the EACC is set to fight corruption it cannot do that effectively when they depend on other bodies for investigations and prosecution. The Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act (ACECA), 2003 is the parent punitive Act that deals with issues of corruption. It is a break-away from the Penal Code as there was need to maximise the sentences as the State pays more attention to these offences. The Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2009 is a legislation that was made so as to try and reverse the effects of corruption. It protects public funds from public officers who love to pilferage funds

The Leadership and Integrity Act and Public Officers Ethics Act, 2003 are meant to regulate behaviour of those entrusted with public office. They are drafted from the background that leadership is a privilege and those in leadership need to be of the highest standards of intergrity. These Acts of Parliament have however not been effective. There is need to amend the laws so as to make those in leadership transparent about their wealth businesses and interest. The legislations should also bind public officers to certain qualifications and education standards.

Government Management Act, 2004 and Public Procurement and Disposal Act, 2005 deal with public money and procurement procedure. They are meant to ensure that taxes from Kenyans are put to good use however there have been loopholes in the legislations that have been exploited and therefore the need for amendments.

 In conclusion, the law is very broad and other than a few changes it is perhaps effective. The people whose work is to implement the law need to be more effective. Paraphrasing the words of former US President Obama… “while we may not be perfect, we can desire to be more perfect, step after step, mile after mile.”

By:

Ouma Kizito Ajuong’

Advocate    

Mental Health Matters

It is bright and beautiful outside when a young lady walks in looking a little unsure of herself. She introduces herself as Claudine, a Congolese who has come to Kituo to seek help because she feels stressed. There is this sad look in her eyes, beetroot red, sleep deprivation or excessive crying, I cannot tell. In a small voice she says she has been referred to Kituo Cha Sheria by a neighbor who had received counseling here before. I usher her into our office.

This is the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services Department (MHPSS)            in case you are wondering, and it is a hub of mental wellbeing. We carry out various activities to help refugees address their psychological problems, and in this case, we are focusing on mind and body wellbeing. I fetch my notebook and pen and sit close to a now relaxed Claudine, ready to listen to her story. Her eyes look tired, she still has a slight slouch to her back but I can tell from the determined look on her face that she is ready to face this.

“I am 28 years old and have been living in Kenya for the past three years. I have been stressed a lot, so I decided to approach you for help. I cannot eat or sleep well. My husband and I ran away from Congo due to outbreaks of violence between different ethnic groups. We were beaten up and I was raped several times. My husband was tortured. We managed to escape and came to Kenya to start a new life. But it is not easy. I am not able to provide for my two children born in Kenya for lack of money, I have troubles sleeping at night because I dream of the things we passed through while in Congo. I keep thinking about it all the time, and I do not feel like going out to meet people. Most times I am afraid to walk alone, fearing that someone might attack me. At times I feel bitter and upset about those people and wish I could take revenge. My body is getting weaker by the day, with constant headaches and joint pains which are more intense when I think a lot. I really don’t know what to do, I wish I could forget everything but it seems impossible.”

All through her narration, I see the pain she feels and the anger welling from within her. I empathize with her and decide to walk her through the journey to recovery to have a success story. As I register her as a client for individual counseling sessions, I explain to her about our mind and body wellbeing group, which focuses on trauma-informed yoga to boost trauma recovery by learning ways to calm down or self-regulate emotions. This is where I spark her interest! So, the mind and body wellbeing support group brings together ten women from the same community who have gone through various traumatic situations.

We take them through an eight-week program with weekly sessions lasting two hours each. The MHPSS team engages a mind and body wellbeing facilitator from Africa Yoga Project (AYP) who takes the women through the sessions. “What is yoga?” Claudine inquires. “Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines. In this case we use it as a modern exercise practice which involves holding stretches as a kind of low-impact physical exercise and is often used for therapeutic purposes. Yoga in this sense occurs in a class and may involve meditation, imagery, breath work and music.”

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Oromo women support group during one of their mind and body well-being yoga sessions at the Kituo FMP office.

The women are first taken through the basic concepts of the interrelation between the biological, psychological and social aspects in our lives, citing examples from common problems they face and how those affect their bodies and social lives. During these yoga sessions they learn how to identify signs of stress and how to deal with them and help others in the community who need them. Through meditation, they can experience deeper rest on both physical and mental levels, allowing them to gain greater awareness. Meditating every day can bring plenty of benefits – you feel more relaxed, have more energy, savor more enjoyable moments and make you better at handling difficult situations. They learn how to take and be in control of their bodies especially during stressful situations, how to engage in calming exercises and gain a state of stability to tackle issues at hand.

On top of that, refugees are able to make social connections with each other, make friends and establish a support system that lasts even after the group sessions are over. Selfcare during and after the exercises is also emphasized to ensure people do not get hurt or overwhelmed by the exercises. .

“After two months of yoga training at Kituo, I feel so much better. I have found new ways of dealing with stressful issues, I am able to stay calm and relax. I can now sleep peacefully all through the night. I do not keep away from people like before. I now have friends I can relate with, and I am glad I came to Kituo. I am now a very happy person and I have the strength even to look for jobs to take care of my family”, Claudine reports.

By Julie,

Psychosocial volunteer (Kituo Cha Sheria)

No Person can be Illegal

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No Person Can Be Illegal

On the eve of the day the world celebrates to mark the World Refugee Day 2018, President Donald Trump of the United States of America was quoted from his briefing at the White House saying “The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility.”

These words however appalling and controversial as they sound are the true reflection of how countries for a long period of time have perceived the subject of immigration and refugees.

The narrative has always been, “As a country, we continue to do so much for refugees.” In some worst scenarios, any surge in crime rates or social breakdown is attributed to the existence of refugees in the host country.

One vital question that stands is this, have we ever imagined how much more, given a chance, the refugee would impact on the social and economic developments of the host countries?

The world should move beyond seeing the tag descriptive of a person forced to flee his home due to war, poverty, underdevelopment, environmental degradation, and inequality; and instead focus on the talents and abilities individual refugees posses for the economic and social development of the host country. Before displacements, some refugees were doctors, teachers, scientists, engineers, lawyers, and even people practising art.

Given a chance, the host country would also greatly reduce the burden of hosting the refuges by tapping into the expertise of these displaced persons unlike constricting these persons in camps awaiting aid.

It is important to note that the sharp increase in the outflow of displaced persons is majorly attributed to political feuds. On this particular issue the international community has failed in its responsibility.

UNHCR report indicates that out of 66 million displacements that have happened all over the world, only 500,000 refugees and other displaced persons have returned home. This has been occasioned by persistent absence of security and peace because very few displacement situations have been brought to a definitive conclusion.

It should be each country’s obligation to sustain the protection of the displaced people and refugees while solutions to conflict situations are pursued both within the host country and even in the affected country.

Therefore to achieve a complete reversal of the outflow of refugees, there needs an urgent collective action by the international community to restore security, resolve conflicts and build peace.

#WorldRefugeeDay #WithRefugees #MyNameIsNotARefugee

 

By:

Jack Odiwa, Local Expert-AJS

AGCP-Kituo Cha Sheria

Knowing Your Community Land Rights

Opinion Blog

Recognition, Protection and Registration of Community Land Rights

Community land is land which vests in and is held by communities identified on the basis of ethnicity, culture or similar community of interest under the tenure systems of either; (a) customary (b) freehold (c) leasehold (d) or such other tenure system recognized under a written law.

Every person has the right, either individually or in association with others, to acquire and own property of any description in any part of Kenya, in accordance with Article 40 of the Kenyan Constitution.

Customary land rights, including those of community land, have equal force and effect in law with freehold or leasehold rights acquired through allocation, registration or transfer for example, subject to Article 40 (3) of the Constitution and the Land Act, no interest in, or right over community land may be compulsorily acquired by the State except in accordance with the law, for a public purpose, and upon prompt payment of just compensation to the person or persons, in full or by negotiated settlement.

To register a community land, the Cabinet Secretary of Lands, in consultation with the respective county governments, develop and publish in the Gazette a comprehensive adjudication programme to ensure that the process of documenting, mapping and developing of the inventory of community land is transparent, cost effective and participatory with the members of the community.

The person responsible for the registration of community land is the Community Land Registrar.

The process of registering community land involves the Cabinet Secretary of Lands by a notice in the Gazette; appoint an adjudication officer in respect of every community registration unit to facilitate, in consultation with the respective county governments, the recording of community land claims, demarcation of community land and delineation of boundaries. Upon adjudication, the title relating to community land is issued to the registered community by the Community Land Registrar.

Community land maybe held as; communal land; family or clan land; reserve land; and any other category of land recognized under a written law.

Administration and management of community land

A registered community must have a community assembly which shall consist of all adult members of the community. The community assembly shall elect between seven and fifteen members of the community assembly to constitute the community Land Management Committee for the administration and management of the community land.

Any decision of a registered community to dispose of or otherwise alienate community land is binding if it is supported by at least two thirds of the community assembly, while all other decisions of the registered community shall be by a simple majority of the members present in a meeting.

Nature of community land title

Upon registration of a community land, the community is issued with a Certificate of Title which gives the community the absolute ownership of that land together with all rights and privileges attached to the land.

This certificate is considered by courts as factual evidence that the person named as proprietor of the land is the absolute and indefeasible owner

Conversion of community land

A registered community shall, before the conversion of registered community land into either public, private land or any other category of land, seek and obtain approval from two thirds of the community assembly for instance;

  • Community land may be converted to public land by compulsory acquisition; transfer; or surrender.
  • Community land may be converted to private land through transfer; or allocation by the registered community.
  • Public land may be converted to community land by allocation by the National Land Commission in accordance with the Land Act, 2012 (No. 6 of 2012).
  • Private land may be converted to community land by transfer; surrender; operation of the law in relation to illegally acquired community land; or operation of any other written law.

Special rights and entitlements in the community land

A registered community may upon application and with approval of the members of the community assembly, allocate part of its registered community land to a member or a group of members of the community for exclusive use and occupation for such period as the registered community shall determine.

These occupations may include (a) farming areas; (b) settlement areas; (c) community conservation areas; (d) access and rights of way; (e) cultural and religious sites; (f) urban development; or (g) any other purpose as may be determined by the community, county government or national government for the promotion of public interest.

However, an individual entitlement shall not be superior to community title in any way.

Environment and natural resources management

Natural resources found on community land shall be used and managed sustainably and productively; for the benefit of the whole community including future generations; with transparency and accountability; and on the basis of equitable sharing of accruing benefits among the community members.

Settlement of disputes relating to community land

For purposes of settling disputes and conflicts involving community land, registered communities are encouraged to use alternative methods of dispute resolution mechanisms including traditional dispute and conflict resolution mechanisms and internal dispute resolution mechanisms set out in the respective community by-laws.

The methodologies used in dispute resolution over community land include,

  • Mediation
  • Arbitration
  • Judicial proceedings

 

By:

Jack Odiwa, Local Expert-AJS

AGCP-Kituo Cha Sheria

 

Success Story- Mary Runyangi Muchafu

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Mary Runyangi Muchafu receiving her settlement at Kituo Head office, Nairobi.

Mary Runyangi Muchafu is a middle-aged Kenyan woman who came to Nairobi over a decade in pursuit of gainful employment. Mary is an honest and hardworking Kenyan who worked as a domestic worker in the leafy suburb of Lavington, Nairobi while living in Kawangware. The mother of five (5) was contracted on the 22nd November, 2016 and performed her duties with loyalty and diligence until 6th December, 2017 when her employer; one Mariama Sieh unfairly fired her.

Mary was dismissed in the most unfair manner without any notice being given to her or receiving her terminal dues. Lost and confused on how to handle this most unfair predicament; Mary was contemplating taking her school going children back to their rural home as her prospects of supporting them in her current state looked grim.

Fortunately, when she narrated her story to a friend in the neighbourhood who also works as a security guard in the suburbs of Nairobi; there was a glimmer of hope. The friend happened to have received pro bono legal representation from Kituo Cha Sheria in a similar matter previously.

Mary had worked for the entire duration of her employment without leave including during public holidays and was instead met with threats of dismissal any time she requested a day off. Mary instead toiled in the Mariama household taking care of 4 children until the day she was dismissed and now was presenting her matter to a Kituo legal officer. Once her case was reviewed and deemed meritorious; a demand letter was immediately served to her former employer clearly stating the employer’s unjustified actions in four points- salary in lieu of notice; annual leave; service pay and compensation for unfair termination according to Kenya’s labour laws.

The employer did not respond to the demand within the stipulated time and instead rubbished Mary’s claim with more threats and scare tactics that she’d instead end up paying the employer.

Kituo’s legal officers acting on mandatory instructions to institute legal proceedings from the client were ready to proceed to court and had duly served the employer when through their legal counsel they offered to settle the claim out of Court. The offer being acceptable to our client- Mary Runyangi received a full and final settlement of Ksh. 32,000 in April, 2018.

A very thankful Mary who has since found employment elsewhere was grateful to all Kituo officers who assisted her in her pursuit of justice saying, “Nimesaidika! Asanteni sana”, she said.

RCKM

Kituo Cha Sheria