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Gemstone miners accuse dealers of sexual assault and rights abuses

By Renson Mnyamwezi | August 28th 2016
KNCHR Chairperson Kagwiria Mbogori (centre) with Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu (right) and Wundanyi MP Thomas Mwadeghu at Kamtonga trading centre in Mwatate on Thursday. [PHOTO: RENSON MNYAMWEZI/STANDARD]

Scores of women miners in Taita Taveta County claim some of their employers have been sexually assaulting them while frisking them for gemstones.

The women appeared before the public inquiry by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) on mining and its impact on the enjoyment of human rights.

They told the commissioners that their employer had been inserting her fingers into their private parts to look for gemstones believed to have been stolen by workers.

The commissioners were shocked to learn that one of the armed gemstone dealers had been threatening workers with a pistol if they defied orders to be frisked.

Three women, who testified yesterday, told the commissioners sitting at Rukanga trading centre in Voi Sub-county, Taita-Taveta County, that the well-connected and wealthy gemstone dealer had on numerous occasions violated their fundamental rights while they are on duty.

They said whenever they reported the matter, no action was taken against the dealer.

The public inquiry is led by KNCHR chairperson Kagwiria Mbogori. Other commissioners have been drawn from the National Land Commission and the Gender Equality Commission.

“We are forced to enter into a special room in the evening where we are forced to remove all our clothes before the employer inserts her fingers into our private parts to look for stolen gemstones,” one of the victims told the commissioners in a closed-door meeting.

The press was not allowed into the meeting due the sensitivity of the matter.

Addressing the press after the hearing, Ms Mbogori said they conducted the public inquiry in camera because of the nature of violations meted against the women.

“The nature of the violation required privacy and respect,” she said.

Mbogori said the commission was committed to finding a lasting solution to the human rights abuses and violations.

“We have received numerous complaints against some gemstone dealers who have been infringing on their workers’ rights. We will also summon them to hear their side of the story and later formulate solutions to the problems,” she said.

One victim, who declined to be named, said: “We had worked for the gemstone dealer for a month without salaries. We later decided not to work for her anymore.”

“Our employer was doing all this with the full knowledge of security personnel who guarded her. We were being abused and threatened with death if we disobeyed her orders.”

Another woman said, “We were ordered to go one by one into the special room for frisking. At one time, I was slapped for being reluctant to remove my clothes.”

The women told The Standard on Sunday that their employer had once been arrested for violating her workers’ rights but she was released without being charged.

“We are a poor lot and cannot fight the rich. The employer has been eating with senior government officials and politicians to perpetrate the vice,” said another victim, who is a widow and a mother of four.

The women confirmed that they used to steal the gemstones because their employer was not paying them.

“We used to extract a lot of minerals, but our employer was reluctant to pay us salaries, yet she was aware that we have children to feed and educate. That is why we decided to steal gemstones to sustain our poor families,” said a woman.

The workers said the dealer had employed more than 100 women whom she all subjected to such abuse.

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