Today, at a conference on “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” organized by the County Gender Sector Working Group, in Kisumu, in Western Kenya, FIDH and its member organisation in Kenya, KHRC, are presenting the results of their investigations into cases of sexual violence committed in the midst of 2017 presidential election in Kenya. Since 2018, our organisations interviewed and followed the situations of a total of 51 female survivors and members of their households in Vihiga, Migori and Kisumu Counties. Other stakeholders were also interviewed for the purpose of this documentation namely; local and national authorities, civil society organisations, and international NGOs.
On the basis of these investigations, FIDH and KHRC documented various forms of election-related violence, including sexual violence, in the form of rape, attempted rape, gang rape, and sexual assault committed mostly by State agents in these counties considered to be opposition strongholds.
“Before I knew it, they had robbed me. A different officer came to me and raped me. My daughters who had run away started screaming that they are raping our mother! The bodaboda [motorbike] riders came to our help and started throwing stones on the roof. The police officers feared and ran away. But before they left, they raped the four of us (two of my workers, an elderly lady and myself)”, said a survivor in Migori County.
Our organisations' follow-up with victims and members of their households after the elections also helped to ascertain serious long-term consequences at the physical, social, economic, and political levels. Also, the recurrence of these violations and the impunity mostly enjoyed by their perpetrators have exacerbated the mistrust of certain populations towards political actors and national authorities as the following survivor’s statement show:
“Sometimes I think why it is that, when voting time comes, women suffer. In 1997, I was young. When they voted, people fought. In 2007, 2013, 2017. Why should we keep on voting? There’s no need to vote. Why small people suffer, why not big people, they make people fighting and then run away. Is it of value for people to vote? And if it is, why should people fight? They lose life for no reason just because someone wants a seat. I don’t value voting in Kenya”, from a survivor in Vihiga County.
The findings clearly indicate that measures taken by the State at local and national levels to prevent and respond to sexual violence during election seasons were insufficient. Kenyan authorities failed to respect their obligations to prevent, protect, investigate, prosecute, and provide for meaningful reparations for victims of sexual crimes committed during the 2017 election.
Failure to conduct independent and effective investigations and prosecutions with regard to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) was recently recognised in a highly anticipated court decision in Kenya, related to a petition filed in 2013 on sexual violence committed during the 2007 election and its aftermath. As a consequence of the State's violations of its obligations, several of the victims who had signed on to the case as co-petitioners were each awarded four million Kenyan shillings (approximately USD 36,000) as general damages. Our organisations welcomed this decision but recall that serious gaps in the fight against impunity remain with regard to sexual violence committed in the context of elections in Kenya.
With just a year to go before Kenya’s next elections, and considering the history of violence, including sexual violence, around elections in the country since the 1990s, there is an urgent need for national and local authorities to finally and adequately respond to the demands for justice of survivors of sexual violence, but also to put in place specific measures to combat their recurrence in the run-up to the general elections
“What will they do to make sure 2022 elections are different? They saw this issue is recurrent, it happened in 2007, 2013 and 2017. What are the measures the Government will take? It’s the women who vote mostly, and it’s the women who suffer. I want justice and compensation”, declared a survivor in Kisumu County.
Our organisations intend to continue their joint action in favour of the prevention of and fight against impunity for sexual violence, in particular by calling on the authorities and political actors to place these issues at the heart of the debate during the forthcoming election period, and by making the voices of survivors heard about the consequences and impact of these violations on their lives and on society as a whole. We urge national and local authorities to provide accountability and adequate prevention, protection from, and response to sexual violence. A more detailed report on these findings and the recommendations of our organisations will follow shortly.
KHRC: Moses Gowi
Kenya Human Rights Commission
FIDH: Eva Canan
Contact: +33 6 48 05 91 57