The Kenyan government has been asked to take firm action to prevent sexual and gender-based violence ahead of the general election in August 2022.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its local member organisation, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), have warned that, in the absence of urgent state action, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which has characterised past elections, is likely to be repeated.
Representatives of the two civil society organisations were speaking during the launching of their joint report, Sexual Violence as a political tool during Elections in Kenya, in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 18, 2022. The report is based on a fact-finding mission on election-related SGBV conducted between July and December 2018.
“The report shows patterns of sexual violence during election times in Kenya and the consequences, especially on survivors and their family, and the impunity for perpetrators,” said Julia Doublait of FIDH.
The Inclusion and Political Justice Programme Adviser at KHRC, Irene Soila, said the findings show that many of the perpetrators were police officers or men in police uniform.
According to the report, the violence was part of a security crackdown on protests against the results of the two presidential polls held in 2017. The Kenyan Supreme Court nullified the results of the presidential election held on August 8 of that year, in which President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner. The judges ordered a fresh poll, which was conducted 60 days later, on October 26. Kenyatta easily won the poll when opposition leader Raila Odinga’s supporters boycotted the election.
The organisations interviewed 79 women in Vihiga, Kisumu, and Migori counties with an average age of 45, as well as members of some of their households during the October 2017 repeat presidential elections. Their testimonies confirmed there was widespread election-related SGBV in opposition strongholds.
“Most of the survivors interviewed by FIDH and KHRC said that they had not filed a complaint due to the police’s alleged involvement in the perpetration of sexual violence,” said the report.
Survivors in Vihiga and Migori counties indicated that they had been raped during the period of the repeat presidential election, from October 26-29, 2017. They said there was chaos in their area, with young men, including boda boda (motorcycle) riders barricading the roads and hurling stones at police officers, who retaliated using tear gas. There were reported gunshots, running battles, confrontations, and chases between civilians and police.
In Vihiga, survivors said there were altercations between police and local men who were protesting against the alleged involvement of a local businessman in electoral malpractices.
In Migori and Kisumu, survivors reported clashes and violence soon after the results of the presidential election results were announced.
The report documents cases of rape and gang rape.
“This is in line with the data compiled by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (of all cases documented, 19.3 per cent were raped by one perpetrator and 52.6 per cent by multiple perpetrators) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) (half of the rapes documented in Kisumu and Bungoma counties were gang rapes),” said the report.
It also documented cases of sexual violence in Vihiga near or in Majengo town on victims engaged in their daily routines.
In Migori and Kisumu, perpetrators invaded survivors’ places of work or their residence, sometimes knocking at the door, or using force and shouting. The survivors say their rapists did not use any protection (such as condoms).They were slapped, beaten, insulted, gagged, strangled, and hit with objects or weapons.
In Vihiga and Migori, several victims were raped in front of their relatives (husbands, children, and cousins) while in Kisumu, some survivors said their husbands were either not present or had been removed from the house by the police. Some were robbed by their assailants and witnessed the destruction of their property.
In four cases in Kisumu, survivors reported having faced attempted rape. Some perpetrators used false pretense to trap the victims. In some of the cases in Vihiga, police officers pretended to rescue the survivors, tricking them into believing they were safe.
The survivors interviewed were mostly women, although two male sexual violence victims declined to be interviewed.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) estimated that the vast majority of survivors were women (over 96 per cent), although cases of sexual violence against men were also documented (over 3 per cent).
The women interviewed were aged between 20 and 64 at the time and were working in small businesses such as M-Pesa shops, salons, retail shops, and food kiosks. They all referred to male perpetrators.
“I was in my shop on October 28, after the repeat of the presidential election, in Namba, Migori county. […] At noon, the youth had barricaded the roads. They were burning tyres and started running towards my shop. I tried to close the door to block them. Then the police came through the back door shouting, “Where are those men?” One of them grabbed me, tore my panty and the other one raped me. He finished and the other one started raping me,” a survivor said.
Another one added: “I reported to the police, I went to Obunga police station. I was chased away and they told me they didn’t want to hear these allegations. I cried and screamed asking them why. I said, ‘I’m not going away until I get an OB number’. I sat there. It took time but they finally recorded my statement. I didn’t get the details of what was written but I have an OB number. When they gave it to me, they told me ‘Where do you think you’re taking this OB number? We are police officers. You will not go to any court’. So far, I have no updates.”
Most of the women said they no longer have any interest in participating in electoral processes. Others indicated they would not vote again because they fear for their lives and those of their families.
Most of the survivors said they are still suffering, not just because of the assaults, but also due to loss of livelihoods. They have also experience post-traumatic disorder, insomnia, anxiety disorder, phobia towards men in uniform, denial, fear of attack, and stigma.
Many are still living in fear and are afraid of what will happen in the coming elections. “We need adequate security,” said a survivor from Migori.
The organisations urged Kenya to amend the Sexual Offences Act to make sure it addresses sexual violence in conflict situations and even during pandemics.
Jacque Mutere, a survivor of the 2007/2008 post-election violence, asked for the prioritisation of the reparations agenda to provide redress and healing, as well as break the silence for sexual violence survivors.
KHRC Executive Director Davis Malombe expressed concern at the possibility of escalation of violence in the 2022 polls, and called for proper warning, documentation, and prevention mechanisms by the state and civil society actors. This would allow them to report, monitor, carry out investigations, and obtain convictions, he added.
The report aims to raise awareness about election-related SGBV and its consequences in Kenya; advocate accountability; and encourage the adoption of the necessary measures of prevention, protection, and guarantee of non-repetition.
FIDH and KHRC asked the Kenyan government, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and political parties to anticipate the risk that political violence could take the form of SGBV and put in place urgent and appropriate measures to prevent such incidents. These measures must be aimed at prevention, protection, investigation, prosecution, and reparation, the organisations said.
They also called upon the international community, the East African Community, and the African Union to publicly warn of the risks of election-related SGBV and also ask Kenya to implement the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights guidelines on combatting sexual violence and its consequences in Africa.