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Survivors of sexual violence want peace and justice to reign in Kenya

Failure by the government to act on recommendations of the documented horrors in the 2007/8 Post Election Violence (PEV) report compiled by the Justice Philip Waki-led Commission on Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) continues to be a source of concern which only compounds the fears of Kenyans. Almost ten years on from Kenya’s brush with all-out civil war, the Waki Commission findings together with the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report remain dusty reference materials on government shelves.

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Kenyan women want justice over post-election sexual violence

Six years after being gang-raped and beaten in front of her husband and four-year-old child during a wave of post-election violence in Kenya, Nancy is still awaiting justice.

If it were left to the country’s director of public prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, she would never see it. Last month, Tobiko announced that his office would bring no cases related to the 2007-08 atrocities before a new international crimes division (ICD) within the high court.

Nancy refuses to take no for an answer. On Tuesday she and other survivors of sexual and gender-based violence will be in a Nairobi courtroom, suing Tobiko and other senior government officials on numerous counts, including the failure to investigate and prosecute their cases and those of thousands of others.

Tobiko, along with the attorney general, Githu Muigai, another respondent in the case, was happy to promote the ICD to the Rome statute of the international criminal court (ICC) at a meeting of state parties in The Hague in November. Why there? The Kenyan president and deputy president, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, face charges at the ICC related to the post-election violence, so the country’s two top prosecutors were eager to leave a good impression with foreign diplomats that Kenya is willing and able to deal with the atrocities domestically.

Indeed, last month Tobiko claimed a special taskforce had reviewed 5,000 cases related to the period, and 1,000 of these had been prosecuted, with 500 convictions. Yet the government will not provide any information to substantiate this claim, which is contradicted by the record of impunity and prior statements about the nature and extent of investigations and prosecutions made by Tobiko’s office.

What we do know is that there have never been prosecutions of mid- and senior-level offenders, including many police officers, and that for most survivors, the Kenyan justice system has been unresponsive, at best.

After her ordeal, Nancy, aided by other women, went to Nairobi Women’s Hospital, where several tests were carried out. Armed with the results, she went to the local police station, where she was given a report number. Many women did not even get that far; their attempts to report crimes were often met with laughter and derision by officers.

Detectives contacted Nancy months later. She showed them where the assault happened and identified her attackers. But the matter was never pursued. She and thousands of other women – and some men – who experienced sexual violence feel abandoned by the government. Kenya’s constitution grants Tobiko the authority to order fresh investigations, but he has not done so.

The case being heard on Tuesday is being brought by eight survivors and four civil-society organisations. This is not the first such constitutional case. Last year, a judge in central Kenya ruled that by failing to investigate 160 rapes of girls aged three to 17, Tobiko and the police had “contributed to the development of tolerance for pervasive sexual violence”, and that their failures violated multiple provisions of national and international law.

He ordered detectives to investigate the cases of the 11 petitioners concerned, and to implement an article of the constitution that requires the police to implement standards of professionalism, integrity and respect for human rights.
 
Kenya’s 2010 constitution has many progressive elements, and legislators have proposed or approved numerous laws, which, if implemented, would make significant contributions to ending the climate of impunity for sexual violence. They would also strengthen women’s rights in such areas as administrative law and democratic representation. But for now, women must continue to fight for a Kenya in which sexual violence is no longer tolerated.
 
Dr Joan Nyanyuki is executive director of the Nairobi-based Coalition On Violence Against Women, one of the petitioners in Tuesday’s case.

– Source: The Guardian

Survivors of Sexual Violence in Kenya Break their Silence

Kenyans are currently awaiting a decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on whether or not the trial in The Hague against President Uhuru Kenyatta will proceed. The Kenyatta case has garnered significant attention because the defendant is a sitting head of state. However, the case is also noteworthy because it represents the only major effort to investigate and initiate prosecution of sexual violence committed against women, men, and children during Kenya’s 2007–2008 post-election violence (PEV).

While the ICC’s case against President Kenyatta has received much attention, many Kenyans will be focusing on remarkable public interest litigation unfolding in their own High Court in Nairobi next week. Despite enormous risk, eight courageous survivors broke their silence and demanded action from the government of Kenya, filing a petition in February 2013 against the attorney general, the director of public prosecutions, and members of the police and public health authorities. In addition to the eight survivors (six women and two men) who suffered sexual violence during this period, the petitioners include Physicians for Human Rights, Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-Kenya), and Independent Medical-Legal Unit (IMLU).

The petition demands that it is the government’s responsibility to protect civilians against sexual violence and ensure credible police investigations and prosecutions of these crimes. The petition is premised on the notion that the primary responsibility to protect citizens and provide redress when rights are violated lies with each sovereign state. In this instance, the government of Kenya bears legal responsibility entrenched in the county’s constitution and international and regional human rights treaties adopted by Kenya to enact and enforce laws, establish effective complaint mechanisms, and support competent tribunals that prohibit and sanction sexual violence. Further, the government is obligated to promptly and impartially investigate, prosecute, and punish alleged perpetrators of sexual violence, and provide adequate compensation to victims of these crimes. Moreover, whenever such violence occurs, the government must ensure that survivors have adequate access to medical services and psychological care.

After a year of postponements and deferrals, a hearing of the petition is finally scheduled to take place in the High Court of Kenya on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, during which the eight survivors will assert their rights and have an opportunity to hold the government to account. Their testimonies will reveal that the government failed not only to train and prepare law enforcement officials to protect civilians from sexual violence, but also denied survivors emergency medical services following the violations. Furthermore, even as the director of public prosecutions insists that there is no evidence to prosecute PEV cases, the survivors will demonstrate that the police refused to document their claims and that the government’s continued inaction represents persistent and willful neglect to codify effective measures to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. The survivors will also argue that the government has failed to provide comprehensive reparations.

The eight petitioners, of course, are not the only survivors of the widespread and brutal acts of sexual violence perpetrated during the PEV. They are representative of more than 900 other victims, whose testimonies and reports were submitted to the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) in 2008, detailing gruesome incidents of individual and gang rape, defilement, forced circumcision, sodomy, and other forms of sexual brutality. These violations resulted in severe physical injuries and detrimental psychological and socio-economic effects, among other serious health complications, that many survivors have borne over the last six years. As both international legal principles and Kenya’s constitution mandate, the state has the responsibility to comprehensively punish the perpetrators of these violations and provide redress to survivors. This case provides the government of Kenya with the chance to finally articulate its political will and commitment to meaningfully addressing PEV crimes and combatting sexual violence, particularly against vulnerable groups such as women and children who are consistently disproportionately affected by this vice. Let’s hope the government of Kenya does not miss this historic opportunity.

– Source: Physicians For Human Rights

Sexual violence in Kenya: ‘To the police, rape wasn’t a crime’

Wangu Kanja was a victim of sexual violence, she is now using her experience to remove stigma and help survivors access psychological and legal support.

In 2002 I was travelling back from work in Nairobi when I was carjacked and raped at gunpoint; I was 27. One man started telling me to undress and I said I can’t do it, until he removed his gun, gave me a bullet and told me to decide whether I want to live or to die. Those were the only two choices that I had.

After the incident I went to report what happened to the police, but I was not taken seriously. Sexual violence is justified and condoned in Kenya most of the time. Our culture does not allow people to discuss sexual issues openly, and it’s difficult for many people to handle sexual violence in an appropriate way.

The police reported the incident not as a rape, but as robbery with violence. They wouldn’t speak of the rape because to them it wasn’t a crime. But it’s a huge problem in Kenya. A 2010 national survey (pdf) suggested that 32% of girls experienced sexual violence before becoming adults.

I couldn’t address what had happened to me because I did not have access to psychological support, and the stigma is so huge that people don’t know how to react. That’s why many people decide to shut down and deal with it the best way they know how. I fell into depression for two years, using alcohol as a coping mechanism.

It has taken me over 10 years to heal. I underwent counselling, and in 2005 I set up the Wangu Kanja Foundation so I could use my experience to help women, girls and men who have gone through sexual violence to access comprehensive care and support including medical, psychological and legal services. We create a safe space for women and give them that platform where they know they can talk about their experiences and nobody is going to judge them.

I am trying to make violence against women a social issue in Kenya, to make people understand that it impacts everyone: if a woman or girl in your life is affected then it means you are affected directly, or indirectly.

At the foundation, woman learn new skills including making peanut butter to encourage them to be financially independent. Photograph: Georgina Goodwin/Action Aid

At the foundation, woman learn new skills including making peanut butter to encourage them to be financially independent. Photograph: Georgina Goodwin/Action Aid

People are now opening up by discussing sexual issues – not as many as we would want, but we have started the conversation.

Kenya is very patriarchal so it is important to build the capacity of women to become financially independent in order to reduce their vulnerability. At the foundation we make peanut butter, baskets, ornaments, and jewellery. With these resources, women can use their skills to protect themselves: you do not need to stay in an abusive relationship because you’re not able to look after yourself.

But ultimately, many women still die in silence because this country doesn’t offer a safe environment to speak about their ordeal.

Everyone looks at me as someone who has gone through a rape ordeal and has healed, but they assume I got there by a miracle. They don’t know that it was a process. So I help them understand that you can recover, but doing so is a conscious decision you have to make. Regardless of what you’ve gone through, your life can change and you don’t need to look at yourself through the lenses of other people. You need to affirm yourself as an individual instead of waiting for others to affirm you.

Wangu Kanja is founder and executive director of the Wangu Kanja Foundation. In September she spoke in London at Action Aid’s Celebrating Fearless Womenconference.

As told to Naomi Larsson.

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