Unending Toll for Rape Survivors in kenya: HRW
Feb 15, Nairobi: Hundreds of women and girls raped during Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence struggle with devastating physical and psychological health conditions, poverty, and social exclusion, Human Rights Watch said in a report released recently. The Kenyan government has failed to provide basic assistance and redress for the rape survivors.
The 104-page report, “‘I Just Sit and Wait to Die’: Reparations for Survivors of Kenya’s 2007-2008 Post-Election Sexual Violence,” is based on interviews with 163 women and girls, nine male survivors, and witnesses of rape or other sexual violence in the post-election period. Human Rights Watch found that most of the survivors interviewed were still in dire need of medical attention, leaving them unable to work or pursue education, adding to their poverty and hunger. The government has recently promised reparations, which should be designed in consultation with survivors of sexual violence to ensure their full inclusion in all programs.
The violence that erupted after the disputed presidential election in 2007 included ethnic killings and reprisals by supporters of both ruling and opposition parties and excessive force by police in crackdowns on protesters. It left 1,133 people dead and displaced approximately 600,000 people. Officials say at least 900 cases of sexual violence occurred, but this is most likely an underestimate.
Many of those interviewed had been brutally raped during the violence, most in gang rapes that involved more than four attackers - more than 10 in a few cases. Women said they were penetrated with guns, sticks, bottles, and other objects. Many were raped in the presence of other family members, including young children. Some men and boys were also raped or forcibly circumcised or castrated. Attackers included members of Kenya’s security forces as well as civilians and militia groups.
In March 2015, President Kenyatta announced a fund of 10 billion Kenyan shillings (US$9.8 million) to provide “restorative justice” for victims. This initiative can be a crucial opportunity for rape and sexual violence victims, if they and their needs are properly recognized and reparations are made in line with international good standards and practice, Human Rights Watch said. The Kenyan government needs to prioritize finding survivors who need urgent medical attention and to adopt policies to ensure they have access to free and voluntary medical and psychosocial services.
Survivors who come forward, whether or not they have been recognized as victims in successful prosecutions, should get recognition, restitution, and guarantees that they will be protected from such violence again. The fund should not be used by the government to avoid criminal accountability.
Some women and girls were infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections but have been too poor to travel to get free medication or get enough food to take it with.
The mental health impact of the attacks have destroyed lives. In almost every case, survivors described profound feelings of hopelessness, self-hatred, shame, anger, and sadness, many times reinforced by their isolation from being stigmatized as rape victims. Some contemplated suicide. The government does not provide them with adequate psychosocial support services.
Women and girls have also experienced family or social problems, including rejection and isolation, as a direct result of the rapes or other attacks. Many are verbally or physically abused by husbands or other family members.
Among the women interviewed, 37 said they had become pregnant as a result of rape. Many gave birth to the babies because abortion is illegal and seen as immoral in Kenya. These women often suffer ambiguous or angry feelings toward their children who themselves also face stigma, rejection, and physical or verbal abuse by their families. Some children have also been discriminated against when acquiring birth certificates since the mothers could not provide the father’s name. There has been almost no acknowledgement by the government or others of these mothers and their children and their special needs, which should also be addressed in the justice and reparations processes.
Only a handful of people have been prosecuted for the sexual violence during the post-election crisis. A report from a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission completed in 2013 is yet to be adopted by parliament. Findings from an investigation into police misconduct, including sexual abuse, during the post-election violence have never been made public.
The Oslo Times/HRW