18 May 2017

Kenya: Women Judges Narrate Harrowing Ordeals in Line of Duty

Photo: The Nation
The National Assembly in a past session.

Women judges have called for adequate provision of security while handling election related cases as the country heads to the polls August.

During a discussion on emerging gender issues in electoral processes, it was pointed out that women judges are at a greater risk of facing intimidation and threats unlike their male counterparts despite being in their designated powerful positions.

Retired judge Mary Ang'awa recounted her ordeal in which she was threatened by one of the parties in an election petition she was handling while she was still serving in the High Court.

"At the time, I was threatened, I had my police driver and I was in court, be alive to the fact that you too can face such. I do not know what happens in your countries but this is a sensitive issue concerning what measures are in place to protect judicial officers," said the retired judge.

Ms Ang'awa was speaking during the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) Africa region conference that kicked off on Wednesday and ends on Friday.

Another judge from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago said she has faced threats twice since she started serving at the High Court of her country.

Lady Justice Jean Charles said she was threatened while handling a case on drugs relating to the Columbian cartels and also when handling a high profile murder.

Even though her experience was not with election related disputes, it sparked the debate on the safety of judges and how their respective countries have taken measures to protect them.

She explained that in her country, threats to judicial officers are not taken lightly and that because of her experience she was assigned security for two and a half years round the clock.

She pointed out that a threat assessment is conducted first in order to determine the gravity of the threats before one is accorded fulltime security.

In Kenya, Senior Resident Magistrate Lilian Arika who is part of the Judiciary's Committee on Elections, said the team has already presented the issue of adequate security when handling election matters before the Chief Justice to recommend on the way forward.

Even though there have been reports on women facing violence during election period, the Magistrate pointed out that this year's party nominations have had more vicious cases.

Mbita Mp was accosted by people armed with pangas, guns and other crude weapons in her constituency as well as had her house torched while a candidate seeking the Tetu Mp seat Ms Anne Kanyi was attacked by masked men with metal bars.

"This is in addition to intimidation, financial challenges to mount elegant campaigns, emotional abuse, and sexual slurs. Who should be moved?" said Ms Arika.

Zambia's Supreme Court judge Roydah Kaoma urged women judges to embrace judicial activism in a bid to have some of the challenges they are facing to be addressed.


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