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KENYA:Poverty is Not a Crime: Kisumu Residents Lament Harassment on Petty Offences

International Commission of Jurists Kenyan Chapter (ICJ Kenya) extended their decriminalization and re-classification of petty offences campaign to Kisumu’s Ofafa Hall on March 17th 2018. The campaign compliments ICJ Kenya’s concerted efforts to push for the decriminalization and re-classification of petty offences. The campaign was executed as a forum discussion on petty offences.

The ICJ Kenya forum attracted stakeholders from across the board to engage them on their views on petty offences. Among the participants were local media personalities from Kisumu, ICJ Kenya secretariat, human rights activists, sex workers, drug users, hawkers, touts, community elders and youthful residents amongst other participants from vulnerable communities.

As part of the campaign to decriminalize and re-classify petty offences, ICJ Kenya noticed that certain isolated groups of people don’t get to participate in public debate that affects them directly.

The pressing question that drove the conversation was: “What has been your experience on petty offences?”

During the forum, the participants shared their narratives and gross experiences in the name of petty offences.

Mr. Opande, a Kisumu resident, lamented on the behavior of County Council askaris and police officers who even confiscate hawkers’ goods and go away with them whenever these officers get hold of them.

The County Council askaris have proved to be manipulative and have blatantly broken the law when handling residents who have been charged with petty offences.

Based on the dialogue with the residents, it became clear that there are many [illegitimate] road blocks erected by police men and that they only serve as points of extorting money [through bribes] from county residents.

A human rights activist at the forum called out residents on the habit of issuing out bribes as a means of getting away with a petty offence. He told the participants that the act of bribing creates an enabling environment for manipulation by the police.

Another issue that was affecting the matatu industry was the fines that touts have to pay to County Council askaris for packing at non-designated bus stop points. “The law is not even clear on the designated bus stop area,” reiterated a resident.

One of the residents said that the inclusion of by-laws in the Kenya’s education curriculum through dramatization and art is one sure one way of enlightening parents and by extension residents on by-laws. Most of the participants admitted to being unaware of the county by-laws.

That serves to ensure that information on by-laws not only trickles down to parents, but the children get to grown up with the knowledge of the county by-laws that govern them in their specific counties,” said the resident.

Women at the forum raised more complaints as regards the violation of their right to free movement. “There should never be an offence called loitering,” said a female participant at the forum.

ICJ-Kenya was urged to advise on how petty offenders can easily access justice and to take up the role of capacity building for law enforcers. On the former, a resident explored the idea of having alternative dispute resolution methods by solving issues such as petty offences at nyumba kumi level. On the latter, a participant mentioned that victims of petty offences with limited abilities such as the deaf have no way of articulating themselves to legal enforcers like police. The need to have law enforcers with the ability to cater to each and every resident as a key move towards addressing petty offences became imperative.

Mr Silas Ngalaa, ICJ Kenya Programme Officer for Access to Justice, shed light on the role of the resident Magistrates Court in the Judiciary in relations to petty offences. “You need to know that there is a magistrate from the judiciary tasked to attend to petty offences.”

During the discussion, it became clear that awareness on by-laws was key to preventing the manipulation of residents by law enforcers. Mr. Kavulavu, the Human Rights Programme Manager at ICJ Kenya urged the participants to strive to know the basic law. In addition to that, he urged victims of petty offences to take advantage of opportunities offered by pro-human rights organizations like ICJ Kenya.

“We are ready to help you in your pursuit of accessing justice. ICJ Kenya offers free legal advice,” he concluded.

Story: Olive Aseno

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