Officials of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, held an impromptu meeting yesterday with members of Voi District Court Users Committee at the Voi Law Courts, as part of a fact-finding tour of the Coast Province.

The Voi visit, whose main aim was to assess the challenges facing the Court Users Committees in the region, comes in the wake of the opening of a new Coast KNHCR Branch office based in Mombasa. Led by Mohamed Ruwange, the KNHCR officials recounted the historical origins of the Human Rights body established under an Act of Parliament in 2001. Previously, the human rights docket was handled by a Standing Committee set up specifically to deal with the subject within the Ministry of Justice.
Court Users Committees, simply known as CUCs, were inspired by the KNHCR whose mandate is to champion and promote human rights throughout the Republic.

When the KNHR Commission was established under the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights Act of 2001 some of the systemic challenges then were said to be congested prisons, disconnected services and the existence of many stake-holders and actors whose goodwill and reformist agenda were often marred by incoherent centralized planning strategies. The eventual incorporation of the CUCs into the judicial system therefore was part of the reformist thinking that inspired the new human rights legislation.

Members of the Voi District CUC include the Kenya Forest Service, Department of Health, Probation, Prisons, Planning, Children, Information, Police, Judiciary, Criminal Investigations, Prosecution and KWS among many others.

Among subjects routinely listed for deliberation in the CUCs are children matters, conditions for granting bail terms, suspects’ age assessment procedures, execution of Warrants of Arrests as well as the establishment of additional Court rooms and a Child Protection Unit

Addressing the meeting participants on the same occasion, Voi Senior Principal Magistrate, Mr. Samuel Wahome explained the Judiciary’s novel approach of encouraging minor offenders and their accusers in criminal cases, especially involving family members or neighbors, to pursue reconciliation in appropriate fora. He also cited the Court’s frequent requests for pre-bail Probation Reports, as influenced chiefly by the local Community’s known respect for the Law and the Courts in general . The KNHRC mandate includes the adoption and inculcation of best practices among the CUCs.

In July this year, the Wundanyi CUC held a successful Sexual Offences and Drugs Abuse Campaign, which drew participants from Primary Schools, members of the local Administration, Police, Prisons, Clergy, Civic Organizations, Advocates and members of the public.

During a lively exchange in the Voi forum, an official of the KWS present strenuously defended the Organization against accusations of abuse of power and framing of innocent persons arraigned before Courts of Law in Taita Taveta. The bone of contention appeared to be the lack of a Court facility for the storage of exhibits such as elephant tusks, which compel the KWS prosecutors to seek the release of exhibits to KWS pending the determination of the Court proceedings. Some of these exhibits, it is believed, later fall into the wrong hands leading, probably, to the fictitious Court charge claims.

While acknowledging the existence of the problem, however, Mr. Samuel Wahome noted the adversarial nature of our legal system but, commended the Courts for standing firm as arbiters for justice.

As the CUCs continue to tackle human rights, policy, administrative and other infrastructural challenges facing the judiciary in Taita Taveta County, KWS and all other Government institutions affected by its mandate are obligated to discharge their functions and render their services in harmony with the human rights dictates and national values stipulated under article 10 of the new Constitution.

Duncan Mwanyumba

Duncan Mwanyumba is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya currently based in Voi City, Coast Province of Kenya, a cultural enthusiast, and a member of both Voi and Wundanyi CUCS
Voi City, Thursday, Nov 28, 2013

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