Sexual violence survivors demand compensation from Kenyan government

Former chairman of TJRC ,The Late Bethwel Kiplagat hands over the commission's report to president Uhuru Kenyatta. Some recommendations by the commission are yet to be fulfilled.Picture:courtesy
Former chairman of TJRC ,The Late Bethwel Kiplagat hands over the commission's report to president Uhuru Kenyatta. Some recommendations by the commission are yet to be fulfilled.Picture:courtesy

Though the demands came in late as the clock ticked towards the August 8 General Election,  Human Rights Watch, an international lobby organisation  called on the Kenyan government to speed up the exercise of compensating victims of sexual violence that took place under previous governments.

After the 2007-2008 post-election violence, the Kenyan government established a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to help heal historical grievances. The TJRC looked into injustices and human rights violations had taken place between 1963 and 2008. It later compiled a report that outlined a reparations’ framework for a broad range of rights violations including sexual violence.

The TJRC received 1,104 statements representing 2,646 women and 346 men who were victims of sexual violence during security operations by police and military as well as political, resource and ethnic conflicts, massacres, unlawful detention and torture.

Sexual violence was inflicted through rape, sexual enslavement and slavery. There was forced circumcision of men, genital mutilation, male castration and sexual assaults, such as tying women’s breasts with rubber bands. There was also squeezing of female breasts and male testicles with pliers.

The atrocities caused physical, psychological and social harm to both the victims and their families.

Among the five recommendations in the TJRC report to address the sexual violations, was the provision of reparation for survivors of sexual violence.

Maimuna Sakwa* (not her real name) is a rape survivor of the Wagalla Massacre that represented violence was meted against Kenyans of Somali origin by  security forces in Wajir County in 1984. According to a commissioner with the TJRC, the Wagalla Massacre represents the worst human rights violation in Kenya’s history. Showing scars she sustained on her thighs and hands during the incident, Maimuna says she was raped by police officers who were holding their husbands hostage.

“Men dressed in police uniform grouped together our men and took them from our homes to Wagalla playing ground. The women started crying and decided to search for the men,” recalls Sakwa. “We started our journey on foot through the thickets carrying milk, tea and water to take to our husbands as we were optimistic that we would find them.”

She says: “We were nabbed and raped by the men suspected to be police officers dressed in camouflaged uniform that resembled thicket.”

Sakwa recalls: “They asked where we were going, we told them we are going to search for our men who were taken away few hours ago. We pleaded them to take us to where our husbands were but they instead started to beat us. Women started running away, but they were all nabbed by the police.”

Memories of the attack remain vividly clear in her watery eyes. “I remember five police officers pulling me down by force. They started raping me one by one. I fainted and they left me for dead,” recalls Sakwa. “Luckily I was rescued by good Samaritans who were passing. I sustained many injuries in my body I can’t forget about this scar in my thigh.”

Sakwa says: “After the incident, we the women who were sexually violated were unable to speak openly to anyone about what happened to us. We were afraid of police officers and a mere mention of police station left us very sacred.”

Camilla Wafula* (not her real name), is another victim of sexual assault which happened during the post-election violence of 2007-2008 in the Mount Elgon region of Bungoma County.

Wafula lost both her husband (died) and businesses during the violence and has not received any compensation to date. She says many survivors are still languishing in poverty, pain and rejection.

“I used to be an independent woman with a well-established business but during the 2007-2008 tribal clashes I lost everything. We were raped by men dressed in police uniform,” says Wafula. “We are now demanding the government to compensate us because our lives have changed from grace to grass.”

Wafula notes: “I now stay in my neighbour’s house.  I survive by fetching firewood from Mt Elgon forest which I sell though I still live in fear.”

As the country prepared for the General Election, the nightmare of these women not having a decent home or land seemed to haunt them. They were even afraid of exercising their constitutional rights of voting for fear of being rape targets.

“We are pleading with the Government not to let this happen again. Let them be careful with people’s lives because when clashes start it’s the women who suffer most,” says Wafula.

These fears remain high even now as the country is set to do a repeat presidential election. “Political leaders should also be careful and avoid incitement messages to the public.

They also call for women to be empowered on voting because in rural areas, women’s voices are muted due to cultural and traditional beliefs.

“Let no one coerce us to vote for them but rather we have the right to make our own right decision for whoever we choose.”

The women who suffered sexual violence say they remain stigmatised todate. They have isolated by their husbands and some were chased away while others were divorced. Their children are living in pathetic conditions because the mothers are being victimized.

“Let the Government give the survivors money to buy land so as to settle and take care of their children. Most of the women engage in selling jerry cans of water and stacks of firewood so as cater for their family needs,” explains Wafula.

The Human Rights Watch has helped women who from rural areas to know and fight for their rights. As hailed by both Sakwa and Wafula who are both the beneficiaries of the outfit.

“During the referendum process, Human Rights Watch provided psychosocial support and empowered us to speak openly about the violations that we underwent and the need to fight for our rights,” explains Sakwa. She adds: “They assured us that the Constitution has rights that protect us and that is when we shook away our fears and started fighting for our rights.”

According to Agnes Odhiambo, a researcher with the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, rape survivors are still facing stigma in their families and within the communities. She blames the Government for not fully tackling the issue of victims of Sexual And Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and ensuring they get justice.

“These women have the right to be helped by the Government. They are still stigmatized by their families and community. They were infected with sexually transmitted diseases, some have been beaten by their husbands, some are still haemorrhaging and have fistula as a result of the violations,” Odhiambo explains. She notes: “A majority are homeless. They have not gotten justice because most of the victims could not access medical services after the violation because of instability as a result of the post-election violence.”

Odhiambo explains: “There was no time for them to go to the hospital for evidence to be collected. Some of the women are still unable to identify the men who violated them.”

Raised her concern that the fear would make the women not take part in voting for fear of being a soft target to perpetrators again.

“What we are witnessing is that there is no willingness from the Government to show that the perpetrators are responsible for the things they did. What is saddening is that these women fear a lot and hide during the electioneering period,” says Odhiambo. “They are not willing to cast their votes and that’s why we are questioning the Government about how many times these women will suffer because trauma related to elections which haunts as it reminds them of how they were violated during the 2007 General Election.”

In March 2015 President Uhuru Kenyatta offered an apology to the country’s citizens for all past wrongs committed by current and past governments. He said KSh10 billion had been set aside to be used for restorative justice.

Jaqueline Mutere, founder of Grace Agenda, a community-based organization that supports women and girls who are survivors of sexual violence in Kenya says efforts to reach the president on matters of compensation remain fruitless.

“When victims are compensated or helped by the government it will bring a great relief to them,” says Mutere. She notes: “survivors hear politicians inciting people through their speeches in public, they know that this can trigger different reactions that could lead to clashes.

Says Mutere: “The reckless talking also reminds the women of what they encountered in the past and as you can see they still have pain inside them because they have not fully healed.”

She reiterates that the Kenyan Government should also take responsibility for children who were born because of the sexual violence as they are prone to rejection.

Odhiambo suggests: “What we want is for the Government to recognize that sexually abused victims are there and they have a right to get reparations.”

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