Chair of the KNCHR, Kagwiria Mbogori
Distinguished Members of Government,
Dear colleagues from civil society,
Today it is a sad day.
We are here to receive the findings of the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights on sexual violence perpetrated during and after the 2017 elections and what we are going to hear is ugly. It is a sobering reminder that women and girls bear the brunt of electoral violence in Kenya. This is a vicious cycle that has to stop.
Before getting into the substance of my remarks, let me express our profound respect and solidarity with the women and girls who found the strength and courage to report and share their story, despite the pain and suffering that this entails.
The fact that so many survivors chose to expose the heinous violence inflicted on them shows that they have hope that this cycle can be stopped. These hopes require immediate responses. The scale of allegations leave no doubt that the matter is pressing and requires leadership and urgent Government attention.
Kenya is an active member of the United Nations. It has ratified core international human rights treaties and has committed to their implementation. The best illustration of this commitment is the robust bill of rights in the 2010 Constitution. As such, the Kenya State has an obligation to protect people including women and girls from violence and ensure that survivors can access timely justice and reparations. The latter include compensation for the harm suffered by victims, medical care and guarantees that violations will not be repeated in future.
The plight of the hundreds of Kenyans – mostly women and girls – who have suffered from sexual violence in elections features prominently in recommendations that have been made by the UN Human Rights system to the Kenya state. They all point to the urgency of effective prevention, accountability and remedies.
In a recent review of Kenya in November 2017 before the UN committee that provides oversight on the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the following observations and recommendations were made:
Gender-Based Violence against Women during the Election Process
Similar recommendations have been made to the Government of Kenya since the dramatic events of 2007/8. At the Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council in 2015, Kenya committed to redouble efforts to end impunity for perpetrators and investigate and prosecute members of security agencies responsible for human rights violations, expedite reparations and ensure greater transparency in government accountability efforts.
Next year, Kenya will undergo a review before the UN Committee Against Torture, known as CAT. The Committee has sent its questions in advance. It wants to hear about progress in preventing and investigating torture – particularly sexual violence – and about ‘any redress that has been provided to victims of torture and sexual violence perpetrated during the 2007/8 post-election violence and whether the fund for restorative justice established by the President in 2015 been used to provide redress for these victims’.
In March this year, while briefing the UN Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for HR, Zeid El Hussein, urged ‘accountability for the scores of human rights violations reported during the 2017 elections, including sexual violence and unlawful killings’. In February 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Simonovic, addressed a communication to the GoK, demanding accountability for sexual violence during the 2017 elections.
So, where do we go from here? How do we break impunity and recurrent sexual and gender based violence in elections?
Kenya has no shortage of analysis, laws and institutions to promote and respect human rights. Over the last ten years, an extensive set of laws, policies and standard operating procedures have been developed for duty bearers on prevention and response to sexual violence. Yet, not only during the 2017 elections there was rampant sexual violence, as reported by KNCHR, but survivors have faced insurmountable challenges to access medical care and justice.
Leadership will make a difference. The Government of Kenya can set an example globally and in the region to make this report a priority for action. Believe this report. Own it. Believe survivors. Prioritize action for medical follow up and psychological support. Make offenders accountable. Take decisive and tangible action showing that Kenya is a place of zero tolerance for sexual violence and pit in place measures to ensure that sexual violence if effectively prevented in the next elections. Initiate judicial investigations and firmly support accountability. It is wrong that perpetrators of violence against women and girls face no consequence. It emboldens perpetrators and sends a signal that condones and enables violence.
We commend the recent initiative taken by the Interior Cabinet Secretary, Dr Fred Matiangi, to dialogue with human rights actors on the most urgent measures that must be in place to prevent and end gross human rights violations by security agencies. We are pleased to hear that the group has agreed to a sequencing of actions that need to be prioritized to transform police conduct. It will be essential that this platform includes a candid and thorough review of law enforcement gaps in prevention and response to sexual violence during elections. Equally important will be to see Police cooperation with investigations into police officers allegedly involved in cases of sexual violence. This is about individual criminal responsibility and command responsibility.
To conclude, let me underscore our commitment to support Government action to protect human rights and our pledge to support victims, survivors and their families in their quest for justice and reparations. Allow me to end with a recent quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet on the International Day to End Violence Against Women (25 Nov 2018): ‘together, we must change the tide, from acceptance to outrage; from victim shaming to solidarity; from blaming survivors to celebrating their courage and resilience; from resignation to prevention; from impunity to accountability’.