Kenya: Police Accused of Rape in Opposition Strongholds After Elections, Says HRW

Anti-riot police officers attempt to disperse protesters supporting opposition leader Raila Odinga at Obunga slum, in Kisumu County (file photo).
14 December 2017

Down a dusty crowded road in the Mathare slums in Kenya's capital Nairobi, past houses made out of mud and twigs is the home of Mary Atieno (not her real name). She recalls the time after the election results were announced in August which declared incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner. The results were contested by opposition leader Raila Odinga.

"When the results were announced I witnessed people's houses being burnt. On the fourth day after the announcement we heard  police officers had arrived in our area. I ran to the safety of my home and we locked the door from inside," she told DW.

The police came to her door, she recalled.

"One of them said: 'If you don't open this door on the count of three we will break it down,'" she said.

"I opened the door. After opening the door, the man slapped me. He was pushing me around in my home," she told DW.

"He opened his zippers and started raping me. He raped me while my children were watching."

'Widespread sexual violence'

Atieno is one the survivors of sexual violence documented by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The rights organization spoke to about 70 people - including three men - who say they were raped by Kenyan security forces.

HRW's report "They Were Men in Uniform" details "widespread sexual violence against women and girls, and sexual attacks on men."

The people interviewed by HRW in Nairobi, Mathare, Kibera, Dandora, Kisumu and Bungoma towns described brutal gang rapes with two or more attackers. Many said that they were raped vaginally and anally, that they were penetrated with objects, or that dirt was inserted into their private parts.

Most women said they were raped by policemen or men in uniform; many of whom carried guns, batons, teargas canisters, whips, and wore helmets and other anti-riot gear. At least one girl died after being raped.

Many attacks were also accompanied by torture and violence against the women's children and husbands.

Elections marred by violence

At least 58 people have died during violent clashes since the August vote.

"The impact of sexual violence on survivors is devastating," said HRW's senior women's rights researcher Agnes Odhiambo.

"Almost all women and girls we spoke to suffered physical harm and profound mental trauma and feared that their attackers may never be held accountable."

Kenya's government has long ignored election-related sexual crimes and victims' suffering, and it's been estimated that thousands of women and girls were raped during the 2007-2008 political violence, including by state security agents, HRW said.

"Now I fear police so much. When I see a policeman, I run away. They are dangerous. They are cruel. They rape women and small girls, they beat children, old people, sick people, pregnant women, all for nothing. Just because we voted," Rachel Owiti told HRW.

Most women interviewed by HRW also said they did not report to the police because they had little faith the police would investigate their colleagues and feared retaliation.

No trust in police

"They are the same people who rape us. Police don't help; they ignore victims," said Grace Kungu.

"I never went to the police," said Neema Abdul. "If police can do this to us, who will help us to get justice? The men who raped me wore green uniforms."

"The Kenyan government continues to ignore elections related sexual violence," said Odhiambo. "It has continued to fail to help victims. The political temperatures have not settled in Kenya, there is potential for protests which again will be met by police brutality and other skirmishes and women, girls and men are possibly going to experience sexual violence again."

Odhiambo called on the government to protect its citizens by putting in place "measures to protect women against sexual violence including sending out very strong messages to police and others [other perpetrators] that they will not tolerate sexual violence, issuing very clear codes of conduct to the police and disciplinary measures."

Andrew Wasike contributed to this report.

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