20 December 2013

Kenya: Justice for Liz Remains Just Out of Reach

Photo: Capital FM

Nairobi — Six months after a 16-year-old school girl in Busia County told police she was brutally raped and left bleeding and unconscious in a sewage ditch, the girl is still in hospital recuperating from her injuries while all but one of her suspected attackers remain free.

Initially police ordered the men accused of raping the girl, identified only as "Liz", to cut grass as punishment.

The government's lack of action against the perpetrators sparked outrage in the country and an international campaign urging "Justice for Liz".

The case attracted widespread media attention, and after relentless pressure from civil society activists, justice finally seemed to be within reach.

But Kenyan police on November 15th charged only one suspect in a Busia County court with causing grievous bodily harm, not rape. Five other suspects were charged with the same offense in absentia.

Liz's case was set to go to trial December 2nd, however it faced another setback, this time because the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keriako Tobiko recalled the case file from the prosecutor for review.

In sensitive cases that have public interest such as Liz's, Tobiko recalls court files to offer his legal guidance and direction after he analyses the evidence gathered by police, according to Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Alloys Kemo, deputy head of the DPP's sexual offences, gender based violence and victims' rights department.

"The review of the file case will ensure that Liz's prosecutors who are police officers will prosecute the suspect with the right charges," Kemo told Sabahi, refuting allegations that the DPP office was unnecessarily delaying the case.

"Legal review from this office is crucial because it minimises chances of the case being dismissed by court on technicalities or on weak evidence," he said. "We are not unnecessarily delaying progression of the case as many lobby groups claim."

Kemo said the police should expect to receive the file back from the DPP on December 27th, after which the prosecutor will apply for fresh dates from court registrar for the commencement of the case.

Observers not impressed with police work on Liz's case

The attack on the night of June 26th left Liz with severe spinal injuries that have left her confined to a wheelchair. In addition, as a result of repeated rapes, Liz developed a fistula, causing her to leak stool and urine.

Still, the charges against the suspects do not yet include rape.

Administration Police spokesperson Masoud Mwinyi said police are addressing any negligence on the part of officers who initially handled the case.

"The inspector general of police took disciplinary action on the officer in charge of the camp for the casual handling of the case and professional negligence," he told Sabahi, adding that three other officers were demoted and transferred.

"The police are also in hot pursuit of the suspects who have been on the run since Liz's case became a national issue," Mwinyi said. "They can run but not hide. Let them know that the arm of the law is long and does not relent."

Nonetheless, Nebila Abdulmelik, head of communications at the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) and one of the activists who initiated the online petition demanding "Justice for Liz", said more needs to be done.

"How can police have the audacity to tell Kenyans that after all the resources at its disposal and time spent they have only managed to arrest one suspect? Where are the rest? And why did they take ages to arrest and prosecute this suspect?" she asked.

"Demoting and transferring police officers who mishandled Liz's case was a slap on the wrist because it transferred incompetence and gender insensitivity to other police stations," Abdulmelik told Sabahi.

"The other five suspects should be brought to book," she said, urging police to carry out proper investigations so that Liz's case can serve as deterrence to other would-be rapists. "I hope the director of public prosecution will enforce the Sexual Offences Act and charge the suspect accordingly with all criminal counts prescribed."

Mary Mugweru, 37, a salon owner who attended the Justice for Liz public protest organised by civil society groups, said Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo should have ordered an internal probe to find out why police had initially recorded Liz's rape as an assault.

"The reason why Kenyans established the Independent Police Oversight Authority is to come in handy during time like now when we doubt police impartiality," she told Sabahi. "I call upon the authority to expeditiously investigate actions by police who mishandled this case, their conduct, motives and competence, and recommend to the police service commission a decisive course of action."

Unless such investigations are done, there will be "lingering doubt" that the police wanted to cover up the whole case, she said.

"I am afraid there could be many such rape cases going on across the country but are swept under the carpet or handled casually," Mugweru said.

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