The poll-related sexual violence statistics in Kenya are alarming.
Election cycles in Kenya come with a pattern of violence, a peak example being the 2007/2008 post-election period which left over a thousand people dead and thousands of others. With forms of violence ranging from assault to robbery, sexual violence is among the most prevalent forms visited upon people caught in between. The victims are mostly women and children, although male victims are just as susceptible. Despite this prevalence as well as patterns indicating that it has been an ever-present, ever-growing problem, it is still the least visible and the least talked about.
After the August 8th presidential election, research conducted by Human Rights Watch revealed that once again, women and children had borne the brunt of sexual violence ranging from unwanted touching and forced nudity to beatings on genital areas and rape. The areas in which the study was conducted are Dandora, Mathare, Kisumu and Bungoma; areas in which there were significant skirmishes following the announcement of the results.
The perpetrators of this violence were reported to be members of the police forces, militia groups as well as civilians. Much as the whole affair is deplorable, it is an even greater cause for concern that some of the attackers were state officials deployed to the areas for the purpose of keeping the peace. The power dynamics at play significantly increase the chances of unreported cases which in turn means that more victims go without medical attention for fear of stigma and retaliation. Kenya: Government has failed victims of post-election rape and sexual violence
The fact that these assaults occurred in contexts of great insecurity greatly impeded victims’ access to medical care in good time. This, in addition to the nurses’ strike as well as the fact that post-rape care in most medical institutions is heavily wanting work to the disadvantage of victims. Sexual violence is heavily taxing on both the body and the mind. Timely, quality treatment and counselling are necessary if victims are ever to rise above it and the country has failed the victims in this regard.
It is in light of these concerns that a number of organizations including the Federation of Women Lawyers, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Grace Agenda, AFRICOG, COVAW, KHRC and the Kenyan chapter of the ICJ came together to speak out in an open letter to the Inspector General of the Police Mr. Joseph Boinnet, the Acting Cabinet Secretary for Interior Affairs Dr. Fred Matiang’i and the Cabinet Secretary for Health Dr. Cleopa Mailu. Highlighting the Human Rights Watch report, they noted the growing numbers of victims of sexual violence and called upon the political actors to take necessary steps in their official capacities to cure this injustice.
In their recommendations, they focused on the prosecution of perpetrators, reparations for victims, better healthcare facilities, security and well set out codes of conduct to reign in arbitrary powers of members of the police forces;
It is in the best interests of citizens to know what their rights are as well as to understand the due process in police operations. A public notice highlighting these aspects will go a long way in creating awareness which is the first step to successfully curtailing violence because they will know when a line has been crossed.
Cooperation between state officials and local communities in security operations will ensure that insecurity does not become an opportunity for civilian gangs to terrorize locals. The police service is not supposed to be an agent of terror, but rather the keeper of the peace. The current mistrust can be overcome by a liaison between the two.
The investigation into reports of violence should be swift and disciplinary measures taken against guilty parties. The state cannot be seen to condone any violence against citizens. Beyond a word of caution to officers, actual repercussions need to be seen as a deterrent to wayward behaviour in the line of duty.
Similarly, in matters of health, the government should ensure that under all circumstances citizens have access to proper post-rape care and counselling. This is particularly because forensic evidence is required in the prosecution of rape allegations. Partnerships with private facilities could go a long way in filling this gap.
The constitutional mandate of free, fair and credible elections covers both the pre and post-electoral process. It is the duty of the government to ensure that this history of violence is addressed once and for all.
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