Kenya: Widespread Sexual Violence Marred Kenya's 2017 Polls - HRW

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

Widespread sexual violence marred Kenya's 2017 elections, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Thursday.

The 31-page report; They Were Men in Uniform: Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in Kenya's 2017 Elections, documents the devastating physical, mental, social, and economic impact of serious human rights abuses surrounding the recent elections.

HRW found that the Kenya government failed to prevent election-related sexual violence, properly investigate cases, hold attackers accountable, and ensure that survivors have access to comprehensive, quality, and timely post-rape care. Many attacks were by security forces, survivors said.

It calls on the government to urgently take steps to protect women and girls, as well as men and boys, from sexual violence.

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

"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."

HRW interviewed 68 females, three male survivors of sexual violence, and 12 witnesses in Mathare, Dandora and Kibera in Nairobi, and in Kisumu and Bungoma in western Kenya.

Significant barriers

The lobby group also interviewed 12 Kenyan and international civil society activists and community volunteers providing services to women. It identified significant barriers that prevent many survivors from getting even basic medical and mental health support services and from seeking justice.

Those interviewed described brutal gang rapes involving 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.

Some were raped in the presence of family members, including children. 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.

In at least one case, a girl died after being raped.

History of impunity

A history of impunity for sexual violence in Kenya seriously undermines women's ability to report crimes to the police, HRW said.

The Kenyan government has long ignored election-related sexual crimes and victims' suffering, said the rights watchdog.

Thousands of women and girls are estimated to have been raped during the 2007-2008 political violence, including by state security agents. They continue to suffer serious physical and psychological trauma, and socioeconomic hardship almost a decade later, and very few cases have been properly investigated or attackers held accountable.

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