Ruth Gakii, 26, limped out of an ambulance into the corridors of Nairobi Women’s Hospital, taking one painful step after another. As medics guided her towards the ward where she would be getting treatment, tears flowed freely from her eyes, with the left one seriously bruised from what she alleges is a result of beatings from the father of her three-year-old son.
Ms Gakii claims she has suffered constant abuse from Alphonse Kambu, a foreigner from Papua New Guinea who works for the United Nations in Nairobi.
She says despite the fact that she has reported several incidents of abuse to different agencies, efforts to get police to take action have always failed because the man enjoys immunity from security agencies. “He started hitting me when I was pregnant with our baby. I got complications because he would push me and kick me, accusing me of several things. When I reported to the diplomatic police, nothing was done,” says Gakii.
She further alleges that last Sunday, Alphonse, who has shared custody of their son, came to her house in Jacaranda and took the child away. Upon returning the child, he started kicking the door and claiming that the child had told him that she didn’t take good care of him.
Before she could respond, the man locked the door and started raining blows on her, hitting her head several times against the wall.
“It wasn’t the first time he was hitting me, but this time it was different. Everything about him was so scary and I thought he was going to kill me,” Gakii tearfully recounts.
She said the man commanded the house help to leave with the child and locked the door. From there, he threw himself at her while yelling that he was going to kill her. Gakii screamed for help and when neighbours heard the commotion, they assembled at her door but there wasn’t much they could do because the door was locked. By the time neighbours called the police who came to save her, she was lying unconscious in a pool of blood. She says Alphonse managed to run away and three days later, no action has been taken.
A huge sob shakes her entire frame when she talks about the many times the man has told her he is above the law because he works for the UN.
However, the UN was quick to clarify that even though their staff members enjoy legal immunity, it doesn’t absolve them from criminal charges. “UN staff members enjoy immunity from legal process only in respect of words spoken or written, and of acts performed by them in their official capacity. Without prejudice to the privileges and immunities accorded to the UN and its staff members, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect local laws,” said Shereen Zorba, head of News and Media at UN.
She added that they expect all their staff members to adhere to the rules of the host country and not to intimidate people claiming that they enjoy immunity.
Gakii says Alphonse has used the fact that he works for UN to disobey the law, adding that even though she has a restraining order barring him from coming into close contact with her, he has continually ignored the order and storms into her rented apartment whenever he wants.
“I live in constant fear. A knock on my door sends chills through my body because I'm always imagining it's him coming to beat me up. I don’t know where to get help from,” she says. Her greatest worry is Alphonse is roaming the city and might cause her more harm the moment she is discharged from hospital. Besides, she says that she cannot be at peace in hospital when her child is with Alphonse, who has since taken custody of him.
When The Standard contacted Alphonse, he said he was not in a position to comment on the issue, saying he had other things to attend to.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko said immunity can be waived if the offender is found to have gone against a court order. He advised that Gakii reports to the Public Complaint Unit so that the matter can be addressed.
The Fida office expressed concern over the case, saying nobody should inflict bodily harm on another and claim immunity because they work for the United Nations. “Nobody has immunity against being charged for domestic violence. You cannot commit such a crime and then expect the law to be lenient on you,” said Fida Director Christine Ochieng’.