opinionBy Saida Ali
Last Wednesday, six women and two men filed a case before the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High court, accusing high ranking government officials of failing to prevent, halt and redress the massive sexual and gender based violence experienced by Kenyans during the 2007 post election period.
These individuals have sued the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, the Inspector-General of the National Police Service, the Minister for Medical Services, and the Minister for Public Health and Sanitation, demanding accountability for the sexual and gender-based crimes against humanity committed during the said period.
They have been joined in the suit by the Coalition on Violence against Women, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, and Physicians for Human Rights, and are seeking justice on behalf of all who experienced post-election sexual and gender-based violence.
Precise numbers will never be known, but during the PEV, one of the seven who is from Kibera was among 600 women who sought treatment for rape at one of the hospitals specialized on dealing with survivors of sexual violence in Nairobi. The rapes all occurred within a 72 hour period after the attacks started.
The Waki Commission noted that these figures represented "just the tip of the iceberg." Many more women sought treatment after 72 hours, were unable to get to a hospital at all, or were unwilling to report a crime to the police because we live in a society that still stigmatizes sexual violence victims.
Besides rape, numerous women were targeted for intentional transmission of HIV, sexual assault, indecent acts, and other forms of sexual violence which also targeted men some of whom were sodomized, forcibly circumcised or endured penile amputation.
The perpetrators, included gangs associated with political parties and in most instances, were policemen. By targeting civilians in a widespread and systematic manner, they were committing crimes against humanity which under domestic and international law, demands investigation and prosecution.
While the International Criminal Court has put four Kenyans on trial for crimes against humanity, there are many other perpetrators who need to be investigated and prosecuted.
Last Wednesday's petition seeks a court order requiring the DPP to establish a special division with some international personnel in order to launch overdue, credible investigations and prosecutions of SGBV crimes.
Domestic and international law also requires the government to provide emergency and on-going medical care and services to the survivors of SGBV crimes. Many are in need of reproductive health treatment, treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and counselling to help them overcome the trauma and the societal stigma that is attached to SGBV crimes.
Here too, our government has failed. Survivors have even been denied access to medical records and other documents that would support criminal cases and allow them to apply for benefits. They have been denied reparations for their suffering. The petition is demanding such redress.
Many of the survivors of the sexual and gender based violence like one of those who went to court will not participate in the elections next Monday. They are afraid of the painful impunity they confront on a daily basis as their attackers continue to roam freely within their communities.
For the woman from Kibera who is one of the seven survivors who has sued the government, her attackers are even now serving on a government peace committee operating in Kibera! The task of this committee includes promoting harmonious relations between community members and preventing violence associated with the coming elections.
Her situation--daily potential confrontation with her rapist--is emblematic of one possible future for Kenya: a continued cycle of impunity and violence in which ordinary Kenyans have no recourse in the face of blatant injustice.
Through their suit, the SGBV victims are demanding a different future - one of accountability, healing, and an end to gender-based political violence.
Saida Ali is Executive Director of the Coalition on Violence against Women (COVAW).