'I just sit and wait to die' - Unending toll for Kenyan rape survivors
Hundreds of women and girls raped during Kenya’s post-election violence struggle with physical, psychological health conditions, poverty and social exclusion.
The 104-page report, “‘I Just Sit and Wait to Die’: Reparations for Survivors of Kenya’s 2007-2008 Post-Election Sexual Violence,” was released by Human Rights Watch on February 15. It is based on interviews with 163 women and girls, nine male survivors, and witnesses of rape or other sexual violence in the post-election period.
Human Rights Watch found that most of the survivors interviewed were still in dire need of medical attention, leaving them unable to work or pursue education, adding to their poverty and hunger. The government has recently promised reparations, which should be designed in consultation with survivors of sexual violence to ensure their full inclusion in all programmes.
“We were shocked to find how many survivors are sick, living in poverty and stigmatised, ignored, and often rejected instead of helped by the government,” said Agnes Odhiambo, senior Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Recent commitments by President Uhuru Kenyatta provide a critical opportunity to address the needs of survivors of Kenya’s post-election sexual violence.”
The violence that erupted after the disputed presidential election in 2007 included ethnic killings and reprisals by supporters of both ruling and opposition parties and excessive force by police in crackdowns on protesters. It left 1 133 people dead and displaced approximately 600 000 people. Officials say at least 900 cases of sexual violence occurred, but this is most likely an underestimate.
Many of those interviewed had been brutally raped during the violence, most in gang rapes that involved more than four attackers – more than 10 in a few cases. Women said they were penetrated with guns, sticks, bottles, and other objects. Many were raped in the presence of other family members, including young children. Some men and boys were also raped or forcibly circumcised or castrated. Attackers included members of Kenya’s security forces as well as civilians and militia groups.
“I was raped by five men – they were beating me, pulling my legs apart,” said Njeri N, who suffered traumatic fistula, an injury that often causes urine and feces leakage and still has a leg injury and back pain. “I got so hurt. I have a problem controlling urine. I am so ashamed.”
The Kenyan government has provided limited compensation to people who were displaced or lost property, providing some money, housing, and land. Survivors of rape and other sexual violence have largely been excluded and very little has been done to address their specific medical or other needs. In March 2015, President Kenyatta announced a fund of 10-billion Kenyan shillings ($9.8-million) to provide “restorative justice” for victims. This initiative can be a crucial opportunity for rape and sexual violence victims, if they and their needs are properly recognised and reparations are made in line with international good standards and practice, Human Rights Watch said. The Kenyan government needs to prioritise finding survivors who need urgent medical attention and to adopt policies to ensure they have access to free and voluntary medical and psychosocial services.
Survivors who come forward, whether or not they have been recognised as victims in successful prosecutions, should get recognition, restitution, and guarantees that they will be protected from such violence again. The fund should not be used by the government to avoid criminal accountability.
Some women and girls were infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections but have been too poor to travel to get free medication or get enough food to take it with.
The mental health impact of the attacks have destroyed lives. In almost every case, survivors described profound feelings of hopelessness, self-hatred, shame, anger, and sadness, many times reinforced by their isolation from being stigmatised as rape victims. Some contemplated suicide. The government does not provide them with adequate psychosocial support services.
Women and girls have also experienced family or social problems, including rejection and isolation, as a direct result of the rapes or other attacks. Many are verbally or physically abused by husbands or other family members.
Among the women interviewed, 37 said they had become pregnant as a result of rape. Many gave birth to the babies because abortion is illegal and seen as immoral in Kenya. These women often suffer ambiguous or angry feelings toward their children who themselves also face stigma, rejection, and physical or verbal abuse by their families. Some children have also been discriminated against when acquiring birth certificates since the mothers could not provide the father’s name. There has been almost no acknowledgment by the government or others of these mothers and their children and their special needs, which should also be addressed in the justice and reparations processes.
Only a handful of people have been prosecuted for the sexual violence during the post-election crisis. A report from a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission completed in 2013 is yet to be adopted by parliament. Findings from an investigation into police misconduct, including sexual abuse, during the post-election violence have never been made public.
“The Kenyan government has shirked its responsibilities toward the post-election victims of sexual violence,” Odhiambo said. “It is crucial for the government to carefully plan and deliver reparations for these victims to alleviate their suffering.”
See the full report HERE.
This article was originally published on Human Rights Watch