Denial will perpetuate deadly poll chaos

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) report on sexual violence during last year’s elections is distressing to read. Released in the first week of the global campaign on 16 days of activism, it reminds us we have much more to do to ensure the safety of women and girls during elections. Ironically, it was released on a day that at least 130 MPs declined to show up to work and vote for or against a Bill that would have enshrined equal gender representation.

Most Kenyans agree that the 2017 General Election fell short of the aspiration of free, fair and non-violent elections promised in Article 81 of our Constitution. What has not been comprehensively undocumented to this day is the gender-based violence it unleashed. 

Within hours of the August 11 announcement, the KNCHR hotline 0800720627 began to receive distress calls. Frightened callers reported their neighborhoods had turned into battlegrounds between party supporters, civilians and police officers. Over the next 150 days, the Commission recorded 201 cases of violence, rape and sexual harassment across nine counties. 

Intimidation, rape, sodomy or assault took place every day for the next five months. Over 30 per cent of the victims were married women. Frightened and in hiding, 80 per cent of the survivors of sexual violence were unable to access timely medical care including Post Exposure Prophylaxis or complete a P3 form within the 72-hour window. A year later, survivors are still dealing with stigma, guilt, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, broken marriages, businesses, physical deformity and loss of loved ones. The oldest victim was 70 years. Tragically, she would have been born a year before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. 

Reading the individual witness statements, you can be forgiven for thinking these were accounts from a country in armed conflict, a war zone or a place where the rule of law didn’t matter. Now introduce the fact that 56 per cent of these incidents were perpetuated by police. 

The reaction of the National Police Service to the report this week was swift. In four tweets, they have rejected the 156-page report. They accuse the Commission of “sensational, preposterous and generalised allegations without actionable evidence” and urged survivors to report to Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa). If the report findings into the conduct of the police was disturbing, the first reaction of the Service is horrifying.

Executive order

The commission is a government body established under Article 59 of our Constitution and an Act of Parliament. It doesn’t come more official than this. The scale and horror of the violence documented in the report deserved a responsible reaction from the Office of the Inspector General of the Police. At the time of writing, the Executive had not commented. Given the speed of the Executive Order to have eight Ambira High School students arrested, one would expect an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the report’s 90 recommendations. This would be a proportional response. 

To casually address the report to the Ipoa is to deflect where the responsibility primarily lies, the leadership of the Police Service. There are easy wins for our Police Service if, they would go beyond the four tweets. A clear declaration of zero tolerance, establishment of a special team to study the findings, human rights training and the deployment of women and men in public disturbances. 

Denialism will perpetuate the dangerous pattern of electoral cycle violence. Unless these recommendations are acted on, like the post elections violence of 2008, impunity and violence will go unpunished. This time we will have opened a door to violent officers to dishonor their police uniforms by raping civilians.

For us citizens, we just got the strongest argument to extend the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence to a 365-day commitment. If you don’t believe me, read the report for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

- The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. Twitter: @irunguhoughton