Why Ruto regime should protect survivors of poll sexual violence

Human rights activists picket as part of the commemoration of 16 Days of Gender Based Violence along Kenyatta avenue, Nairobi on December 9, 2022.  [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The chaos and violence of the 2007 elections may be a distant memory for most but it remains a constant nightmare for the hundreds - if not thousands - of survivors who bear wounds of the senseless conflict in their broken and violated bodies.

This is more so for survivors of Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) during that dreadful period in our political history.

According to a report to be published by CSOs Network, the Global Survivors Fund (GSF) and Grace – Agenda, over 900 women were treated at Nairobi Women’s Hospital’s branches for injuries related to sexual assaults.

This figure is just a tip of the iceberg and the real number of those who experienced rape, gang rape, sodomy, mutilation and penis amputation most likely exceeded 10,000 in 2007-8 and a similar number during 2017 elections.

Sexual violence has been a weapon of war for centuries but only acknowledged and documented in past few decades. It is reckoned that as many as half a million children were fathered by occupying soldiers in Europe during World War II, most borne out of rape and prostitution.

Rape and sexual violence on men and women was a constant weapon of humiliation and conquest used by the colonial administration here in Kenya too.

We now have reached a point of acknowledgment and recognition but not one of justice or reparations. Not a single Kenyan man or woman has received a penny in form of compensation 16 years after their horrific ordeal.

The Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence (CIPEV) also known as the Waki Commission took testimony from survivors on sexual violence and recommended both prosecution and compensation.

In Mombasa hearings we facilitated the testimony of many such witnesses. Thereafter, the Police Service did their investigations and met dozens more but again their reports were abandoned and victims advised to accept and move on. In other words, forgive and forget.

Some didn’t forget like the founder of Grace-Agenda, who bore a child as a result of rape during the 2007-8 PEV. In 2013 eight survivors, in a representative suit, petitioned the court demanding reparation and compensation. It took seven years for the case to be concluded but in a landmark ruling on December 10, 2020 the court ruled that they were entitled to monetary compensation. This ruling represented a major breakthrough but the Attorney General appealed and like many other such high-profile cases it languishes in the courts.

After the release of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report in 2013, a Draft Legal Framework for Reparations was submitted to the Attorney General. This was also known as the Restorative Justice Fund or sometimes as the Sh10 billion Justice Fund and then President Uhuru Kenyatta apologised to the survivors and their families.

But that has not led to justice as the pledge to compensate CRSV survivors has remained a paper one to date. Meanwhile as the report indicates, survivors live in misery, poverty and isolation.

Men and women are stigmatised, denied healthy relationships and shunned by family and state. The state failed to protect these innocent citizens in 2008 and now denies them the right to compensation and full recovery.

In nine days’, June 19th, we will have the UN International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. That is the date on which the report of the Global Survivors Fund will be released. We have a new government in place after an election that has been the least violent in 20 years.

It would appear that as a nation we are turning the corner and that lessons learnt from past tragedies are sinking in. Yet the country cannot move on while thousands of survivors from past violence still mourn and suffer in silence and shame.

President William Ruto seems to find funds for special interests even in these challenging economic times. As a gesture of closure and respect for the survivors he should find a way in his plans to release the Sh10 billion Justice Fund and set up appropriate structures for delivering reparations for those most in need.

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