15 February 2016

Kenya: Rape Victims Suffer in Silence, Eight Years After Post-Election Violence

A rights group has evidence that hundreds of women and girls raped during the violence following Kenya's 2007 election are suffering from acute physical and psychological trauma.

Human Rights Watch released a report today documenting ongoing health problems for the victims, many of whom also live in poverty and face social exclusion. The group further accuses the Kenyan government of failing to help.

The Human Rights Watch report is based on interviews with 163 women and girls, nine male survivors, as well as witnesses of rape or other sexual violence in the post-election period, but the authors of the report estimate that thousands of people experienced sexual violence in the violence that broke out after disputed elections in 2007 and bled into 2008.

At the time, many of the victims faced intimidation from security forces or their attackers when they tried to report the crimes and ridicule from health workers when they sought medical help. Human Rights Watch says that many of these survivors have urgent health needs that still haven't been addressed, eight years later.

"The rape was not just widespread, it was very brutal", said Agnes Odhiambo, the main researcher on the report. "There was a lot of gang rape, sometimes involving up to ten men. Many women were left with back injuries. Some have problems walking or sitting. Others were infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases".

Odhiambo said the need to help these women is increased by the fact that many of them face social stigmatization.

"Many social groups in Kenya prioritize purity and when a woman is raped, she is seen as unclean", Odhiambo said. "Some of the women have been rejected by their husbands and many are no longer supported by their families. Many also lost their homes and property during the post-election violence. Others had to stop working because of their injuries".

Some of the women also had children born from the rapes. These children also face stigmatization.

Many of the victims were already from poor communities and the after-effects of the violence they experienced has left them even more vulnerable.

Many people were affected by the violence. In total, 1,133 people are thought to have died, while about 600,000 people were displaced. Officials say at least 900 cases of sexual violence occurred., however, human rights organization Amnesty International has alleged that there could have been as many as 40,000. The Kenyan government has given some compensation to people who were displaced by the post-election violence, but, so far, rape survivors have been excluded from compensation.

The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, or TJRC, was founded in 2008 to investigate the violence, its roots causes and the needs of survivors. Five years later, it released a report of recommendations, including about reparations. But the report has still not been considered by parliament.

Last year, during his State of the Union address, President Kenyatta announced the creation of a fund of 10 billion Kenyan shillings for victims (equivalent to about 88 million euros). However, it has not advanced since then.

"Without adoption and implementation of the TCRJ report, you don't even have a framework with which to provide the fund to survivors, even if the money was allocated", said Christine Alai of Physicians for Human Rights in Kenya. She did her thesis at the University of Georgetown on this topic. "The TJRC was established to understand the underlying issues that fueled the violence. It's clear we have a long way to go. And this is particularly important as we approach the next general election in 2017".

Last week, a group of survivors met with members of parliament to pressure them to implement the TJRC report. MPs offered different explanations for the delay, alleging political hold-ups. But at least one MP, Rachael Ameso of Kakamega, promised that the report would be approved soon.

Currently, Kenyan Vice President William Ruto is being tried over his role in the 2007 unrest by the International Criminal Court alongside journalist Joshua arap Sang. Ruto denies charges of crimes against humanity, including allegations that he hired a gang to murder and rape.

Judges recently barred the use of recanted testimony in Ruto's trial after several witnesses changed their stories. The prosecution alleges they were intimidated. In 2014, the ICC dropped similar charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

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