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How To Make Sure Election-related Sexual Violence In Kenya Never Happens

How to make sure election-related sexual violence in Kenya never happens

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In the aftermath of the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya, the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence documented more than 900 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by security agents and civilians against women, girls, men, and boys. During this tragic period, Kenya saw large-scale bloodshed, mass displacement, and more than 1,000 deaths. Kenya’s 2017 election again saw widespread sexual violence, with human rights NGOs documenting more than 201 cases of election-related sexual violence in 11 counties.

Yet these statistics are only the tip of the iceberg. Most survivors of sexual violence do not report their cases because they are terrified of reprisals from the perpetrators, stigma from their families, or re-traumatization by service providers when reporting to the police or health facilities. The real number of survivors of sexual violence is in fact much higher. Every election since the 1990’s has been affected by these appalling cycles of violence.   

Launch of the Breaking Cycles of Violence report jointly published by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women, and Physicians for Human Rights
(Photo by UN Women Kenya/ Kennedy Okoth)

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women, and Physicians for Human Rights jointly published a new reportBreaking Cycles of Violence: Gaps in Prevention and Response to Electoral-Related Sexual Violence in Kenya – which analyses these cycles of election-related sexual violence. The report, based on field research, key informant interviews, and medical-legal record reviews in Nairobi, Kisumu, Bungoma, and Vihiga counties, found that, despite the volume of well-documented sexual violence crimes during the 2007 and 2017 election periods, we have yet to see a single reported case result in a conviction.

Justice has been delayed and denied, again and again. For the survivors and for this country, this is simply unacceptable.

The report found many challenges that undermined effective prevention of and response to electoral-related sexual violence. For example, despite a progressive Constitution and new regulations to strengthen medical, law enforcement, and legal responses to sexual violence, the study revealed that there were significant delays in implementing these laws and policies, resulting in inadequate spending on training medical and law enforcement service providers. Put simply, Kenyan government agencies were unprepared and not resourced to prevent or mitigate the violence.

And for those survivors who were assaulted, the study found that many could not easily access police stations or medical facilities to report these crimes and to seek care and treatment. For those who did present to medical, law enforcement, or legal duty-bearers, many survivors found that service providers were not well-trained or equipped to provide effective forensic documentation or meaningful investigations or prosecutions of these crimes. 

However, there is a way forward.

The report recommends concrete actions for government, duty bearers, and civil society organizations to strengthen prevention, protection, investigations, prosecutions, accountability, and reparations. The report urges the government to strengthen early-warning mechanisms; to work closely with county officials to prioritize the adoption and implementation of national health policies, laws, regulations, and guidelines on management of sexual violence; to establish safe shelters for survivors; and to enhance coordination between investigative agencies, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, survivors’ networks, and civil society organizations.  And, critically, the report found that the Government of Kenya is obligated by national and international law to not only prevent and protect civilians from these attacks, but to prosecute the perpetrators. It is also the state’s obligation to acknowledge the survivors of election-related violence and commit to a meaningful process of consultations with survivors and civil society organizations to design and implement a comprehensive reparations policy.

We know that implementing these systems-strengthening measures will help break the cycle of election-related violence. The report noted that those communities that demonstrated better coordination between duty-bearers and civil society fared better during the electoral violence. In Nairobi, the National Network of Survivors of Sexual Violence were at the forefront in monitoring electoral activities and reported signs of any risk of violence. In Kisumu, clinicians at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Referral and Teaching Hospital and the County Technical Working Group worked with communities in advance to sensitize stakeholders on the importance of reporting cases of election-related sexual violence. These networks facilitated the victims to report the cases in a timely manner therefore ensuring they received the much-needed post-rape care. Members of the community were also in apposition to direct victims on where to report these cases due to the community awareness that was undertaken.

Of course, the pervasive crisis of sexual violence in Kenya goes beyond our election periods. But by transforming the ways we prevent and respond to election-related sexual violence, we are also strengthening the way we can prevent and respond at other times. This is essential given that 45 percent of women and 44 percent of men aged between 15 and 49 years in Kenya have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. The lawlessness that is rife during elections only perpetuates the notion that perpetrators who commit sexual violence will enjoy impunity.

The Breaking the Cycles report is a stark reminder that the threat of election-related sexual violence in 2022 will persist unless we act now. With only two years to go before the next general elections, the clock is ticking for the Government of Kenya, security forces, health sector, civil society, and others to prepare. Prevention and response to sexual violence must be at the core of all the planning and contingency measures that will be applied during the upcoming general elections, including during the campaign period.

This gap analysis was undertaken in the context of the UN Development Assistance Framework 2018-2022 that the United Nations in Kenya developed in collaboration with the Government of Kenya in support to Vision 2030 and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Further, the gap analysis was inspired as part of the Joint Programme on GBV, that was launched in 2017, and seeks to address GBV through 3 key outcome areas. These are: a strengthened legal and policy framework including its enforcement; addressing social norms, attitudes and behaviors; and enhanced access to essential services, including Justice.

Everyone has a role to play – from the president to the police, from judges to civil society – to better support survivors and to ensure electoral-related violence never happens again. We owe it to our country. We owe it to the survivors.  

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