Two horrific murders over the last two weeks left many angry and depressed. As the law enforcement agencies prosecute these senseless killings, we can draw some clarity and hope from two recent national reports that identify how to transform and strengthen the criminal justice system.
The sexual assault and knifing of 25-year-old Sheila Adhiambo Lumumba in Karatina on 17 April was brutal. Over 6,000 have signed a petition calling for #JusticeforSheila and the homicide has been covered by national and international media. Sheila was a non-binary lesbian (they/them). It is widely thought they may be a victim of a homophobic hate crime. The LGBTIQ+ community barely had time to recover from this vicious attack when a 50-year-old intersex person was found raped and murdered in Cherang’any Constituency, Trans Nzoia county on 4 May.
The right to life and dignity is enshrined in articles 26 and 28 of the Constitution. It applies to all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation and identity, class, age, or ethnicity. More simply, everyone of us has a right not to be profiled, targeted, violated or killed. This is the most sacred promise of our constitution. In our silence we become all complicit and place ourselves and the ones we love at risk.
Apart from LGBTIQ+ persons, violence against women is probably the most tolerated human rights violation that cuts across race, class, ethnicity, and religion. The physical violation and psychological trauma that comes with sexual violence is life-altering. One’s will, conscience and sense of bodily integrity is often shattered for years. Yesterday, Centre for Rights Education and Awareness and the Wangu Kanja Foundation, two national women’s organisations, released their in-depth examination into the challenges, survivors face, seeking protection and justice.
Between 2014 and 2018, cases of sexual violence increased from 4,819 to 7,233. Defilement and then, rape and incest, dominate these shocking statistics. The loss of productivity is calculated at Sh10 billion or 1.1 per cent of GDP annually. Given that these are pre-pandemic statistics, one can only imagine what the forty per cent increase in sexual violence has done to these figures over 2020-2021. The Missing Voices Alliances released its own “Delayed Justice” 2021 Annual Report last week.
While many of documented cases of 187 murders and 36 enforced disappearances in police custody have been of young male residents from the informal settlements, this report mirrors many findings and recommendations in the CREAW/Kanja #AccessToJustice report. Read together and in the context of the recent killings of LGBTIQ+ persons, there are clear prescriptions for the National Council on the Administration of Justice, the highest policy oversight mechanism for the criminal justice state system.
Justice systems only work if they offer safety, timeliness, affordability and enforce the law for all. Public awareness, survivors’ confidence and perpetrators fear of consequences is the starting point. Less than 40 per cent of the victims report serious crimes and of this, only 10 per cent have confidence to report to police officers. Too many cases are compromised by unprofessional or the intentional destruction of crime scenes and evidence, poor forensic capacities, and specialised expertise.
The cost of travelling long distances to courts, prolonged hearings and zero protection for both survivors and witnesses are still consistent obstacles both reports have found.
The release of the two reports come at a strategic moment ahead of the National Council on the Administration of Justice conference later in the month. Their policy and procedural recommendations offer the sector new ideas to re-boot the sector before and after the General Elections with the new national administration.
NCAJ could also look for ways to strengthen POLICARE. Three years on, POLICARE is still being piloted as one stop solution for all victims of sexual violence. More than the gender desks approach, it is designed for 24-hour responses complete with interview rooms, holding cells, separate crime registry and triage designed for cases needing that all-important P3 form.
Sadly, it is not yet scaled up across the country. It is time for this to happen now.