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Calls for reparation dominate debate at day for sexual violence survivors

24 June 2021 - 17:06

By Janet Sankale

Human rights defenders and survivors of sexual violence have expressed concern at the slow pace of measures to get justice and reparation for victims in Kenya.

Several survivors who spoke at Westwood hotel, Nairobi, Kenya, during celebrations to mark the seventh International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict complained that they had been left to cope with the trauma of the abuse on their own.

One survivor whose identity was concealed lamented: "Thirteen years down the line and the pain and trauma of what happened to us has not gone away, and nothing has been done to help us."

Many of the survivors agreed that reparation would go a long way in helping to heal the challenges they faced and make their communities to acknowledge that they had suffered harm.

“A reparation is a form of forgiveness, assistance, support, acknowledgement of pain and suffering, and a right,” was the answer Betty Abade Okero, the team leader of the Civil Society Organisations Network, got when she tried to gauge the understanding of the concept among the sexual violence survivors she works with.

However, the Kenyan government insisted that it was on track to address the concerns of victims of sexual violence in conflict situations.

Prof Margaret Kobia, the Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs, announced that the government had formed gender-based violence working groups in emergency hotspots to address issues related to abuse. She added that the Cabinet had approved inter-agency programmes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence (GBV) by framing and heightening action against the crime, especially during conflict-related situations.

In a speech read by the ministry’s Chief Administrative Secretary, Linah Jebii Kilimo, Kobia listed the government’s investment in the economic empowerment of women and girls in order to strengthen their resilience and capacity to resist and recover from violence as another mitigating measure.

The Nairobi event was a partnership of the Kenyan government together with the Global Survivor Fund, Grace Agenda, Civil Society Organisations Network, International Commission of Jurists – Kenyan Section, Physicians for Human Rights, Federation of Women Lawyers, United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, and INUKA Ni Sisi.

In 2015 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 69/293 to proclaim June 19 the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The day is described as aiming to “raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world, and pay tribute to all those who have devoted their lives and lost their lives in standing up for the eradication of these crimes”.

The world has recognised conflict-related sexual violence as a serious breach of international humanitarian law. It predominantly targets women and girls, but also men and boys who, in addition to suffering physical injuries and psychological trauma, face stigmatisation and rejection by their families and communities.

Sexual violence has been a recurrent feature of electoral periods in Kenya, with an alarming scale of violation in 2007/8 and 2017.

Elizabeth Atieno, a survivor turned sexual violence advocate, kicked off the event with a moving description of her own suffering. “I was 16 years old, I was gang-raped, I did not vote in the December 2007 election, but some men saw me as a target to teach my tribe a lesson. I dropped out of school, I lost everything including myself, that night I died a thousand times, but today I have risen a million times.”

Li Fung, a senior human rights adviser in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the agency had undertaken various key interventions in response to electoral-related sexual violations, including supporting survivors’ efforts to demand and work to secure reparations.

She said OHCHR’s partnership with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, and the National Police Service had resulted in the setting up of standard operating procedures for investigation and prosecution of serious human rights violations committed by police officers.

“Accountability for such violence is essential to strengthening prevention and no more occurrence,” Li Fung said.

The event took place in the context of the Global Survivors Fund’s multi-country study on the status of and opportunities for reparations for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in more than 20 countries. The study aims to provide an assessment of opportunities for reparations.

A study carried out by the Civil Society Organisations Network and Grace Agenda in western Kenya and Nairobi found that only 15 of the 140 survivors who participated had received some form of compensation.

Harriet Murage, a psychologist at the Gender Violence Recovery Centre, said survivors of GBV in Kenya suffered physically, psychologically, socially, and economically. They incur physical trauma due to lack of immediate reporting of the abuse. Some develop a traumatic fistula, while others suffer urine and fistula incontinence.

She added that children born from rape are neglected and are likely to become delinquents because of the environment in which they are brought up. In most cases, these children become silent invisible survivors of sexual violence.

Murage asked the government to create psychosocial support centres in all counties to ease access to survivors, especially those who cannot afford psychosocial support from private institutions.

When survivors took the platform, they had plenty to say about their plight.

One said: "I was raped by a police officer during the post-election violence in 2007/8. The Same policeman took the life of my son."

"We are traumatised, we are facing stigma from community, we were infected with HIV, we need psychosocial support," said another one.

Another survivor expressed frustration through a poem in Kiswahili, "Sauti yetu, Haki yetu. Mbona hatusikiki?" ("Our voice, our rights, why are our voices not heard?)

“Nobody respects us. We go through a lot, we have succumbed to blood pressure, mental illness, and we are suicidal. Our children witnessed everything that some have joined prostitution,” was yet another survivor’s voice.

“We bore children out of rape, they are our burden, they need education, health care, we are not in a position to carry this burden, we don't know their fathers, we need help from the government.

" Agatha Ndonga, the head of the Kenya office of the International Centre for Transitional Justice, expressed concern that although a 2015 draft policy proposal on reparation and a draft legal framework recommended the setting up of a restorative justice fund, victims have yet to receive any reparations.

A Global Survivors Fund’s preliminary research showed that few of the 900 survivors of PEV had access to medical care, legal aid, psychosocial support, compensation, vocational training, and livelihood opportunities. Perpetua Adar, a researcher at the fund, insisted that restorative justice was a form of acknowledgement of survivors’ suffering.

“The scars of sexual violence are invisible, but they have a long-lasting impact,” Jacqueline Mutere, cofounder of the Grace Agenda said.

One of the highlights of the event was the handing over of letters written by survivors to the government.

“Reparations are the responsibility of duty bearers. It should not be up to survivors to plead for reparations,” said Esther Dingemans, the executive director of Global Survivor Fund.

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