Hundreds of women and girls raped during Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence struggle with devastating physical and psychological health conditions, poverty, and social exclusion.
The Kenyan government has failed to provide basic assistance and redress for the rape survivors. In the wake of the decision to vacate charges on crimes against humanity for deputy president William Ruto and former broadcaster Joshua Arap-Sang case, there are zero chances for reparations from the ICC. Questions now abound if there will ever be justice for them.
By Joyce J Wangui
In February, Human Rights Watch released a 104-page report: “‘I Just Sit and Wait to Die’: Reparations for Survivors of Kenya’s 2007-2008 Post-Election Sexual Violence,” that documents stories of 163 women and girls, nine male survivors, and witnesses of rape or other sexual violence in the post-election period.
“We 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 programs,” says the rights body.
“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.
We were shocked to find how many survivors are sick, living in poverty and stigmatized, ignored, and often rejected instead of helped by the government. Recent commitments by President Uhuru Kenyatta provide a critical opportunity to address the needs of survivors of Kenya’s post-election sexual violence. Agnes Odhiambo senior Africa women’s rights researcher
In March 2015, President Kenyatta announced a fund of 10 billion Kenyan shillings (US$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 recognized and reparations are made in line with international good standards and practice, Human Rights Watch said. The Kenyan government needs to prioritize 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.
Infected with HIV
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 stigmatized 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 acknowledgement 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.”
In their own stories
“I Just Sit and Wait to Die”: Profile of Apiyo P
There was a lot of tension. Houses were being burnt and people killed. My husband had not come home and no one seemed to know where he was. I used to walk the whole night and day looking for him. I was going to look for him one Sunday and that is when I met the men who raped me.
I don’t know the rapists. They wore dirty dreadlocks and had tied their hair with cloth looking like a Kenyan flag. They had sharp knives and machetes. They asked if I had money, a phone, or wallet. I said no. They said, “You belong to [Raila] Odinga’s people.” They tore my clothes and four of them raped me. As they were raping me, some slapped me with the flat side of the machetes and others kicked me.
I was bleeding and my whole body was in pain. Later I found that urine was just coming out. I went to Nakuru Medical [clinic] after three days. Up to today, I don’t feel at peace. My body is not the same. If I am pressed, the urine just comes out. I feel weak. Sometimes I have a dirty smelling discharge coming from my vagina. I feel pain in my lower abdomen. I have serious back ache. When I do hard work the back pain and the urine is too much. There is a time I can’t even bend. My knees and ankles pain. My hips pain. I feel pain when I am urinating and sometimes I have sores there [in the vaginal area]. Sometimes pus comes out. I go to the dispensary for treatment but I am not seeing any improvement. They give me pain killers and tell me the urine will stop. I haven’t gone to a big hospital because I don’t have money. I have so much shame. I feel hopeless. I just sit and wait to die.
I have problems sleeping. Sometimes I can go to bed at 10 p.m., be up at 11:30 p.m. and not fall sleep again. I doze off a lot during the day. I think about the rape, my financial problems, and the death of my husband. Neighbors told me my husband was burned to death as he was screaming and pleading with the attackers to spare his life. I was running a clothes boutique business in Nakuru and I had good money. But now I have become a beggar. Sometimes I don’t have food. I don’t have any help from my family.
I came here to my father-in-law’s home after the violence and he gave me a plot of land to build. My brothers-in-law didn’t want me.
The land was registered in my brother-in-law’s name and he wants the land back. He says IDPs [internally displaced people] were paid by the government and given land; and that I should go to the land or return to Nakuru. But I can never return to that place. I fear he will evict my children if I die, and they will be homeless. I need help with land and a house for my children. I am just here in the village and I don’t know how to reach the government to ask for help. –Human Rights Watch interview with Apiyo P, Siaya, November 18, 2014
“I Cannot Do Hard Work”: Profile of Wamuyu G
Three men attacked me and raped me for about two hours in December 2007 while I had gone to fetch water. They had a pipe that they used first, and then they used their body, and then they used the pipe again. It was a big pipe the size of my hand. I had just had surgery delivering my last child. I couldn’t walk; I was bleeding severely. My back was damaged, my legs were broken and I had to walk in crutches for almost three years.
I am not in good health. I have pain in my back and around the lower abdomen. Even now I use a stick for support when I walk. I cannot do hard work because of the back pain. They removed my uterus in May 2008 because it was badly damaged. I also developed ulcers and hypertension because of the stress. I am on medication, but many times I don’t have money to buy the drugs.
They burned my house and all the things I had. My husband died in the violence; he had bad head injuries. Church people counselled me and helped me with food. I need help to start a business where I don’t move a lot. I need a house, even if a grass thatched one. Right now I am staying at my son’s home. -Human Rights Watch interview with Wamuyu G, Busia, November 19, 2014
“It is in me and it has refused to go away”: Profile of Achieng’ Y
It was January 5, 2008. Ten GSU [paramilitary police] officers came to our house. They asked for our names and each person gave their name. Without saying a word, they cut my dad on the neck with a machete and he fell down. They slapped us and I think I lost consciousness. When I came around, I found I had been raped.
I was 16 and in class eight and my sister was 18 years. We could not go to the police because there was a lot of fighting going on around the estate. We stayed in the house for three days before we managed to call for help, with my father’s dead body lying there. We left my dad’s body and all our belongings in the house. We have never gone back to that house. We have no place to live.
My sister became pregnant from the rape and has a child. We both stopped school because there was no one to pay for our education.
The rape has severely affected me. It is in me and it has refused to go away. Most times I don’t want to talk to anyone; I want to be left alone. Friends ask me what the problem is and I just give them a blank look.
I don’t trust them. I fear they will tell about the rape. I usually get accommodated by friends. When a friend starts to ask me too many questions I leave them and go to live with another.
These GSU [paramilitary police officers] destroyed my life; our life. I feel pain because it was not my fault. I hate men. I don’t have a boyfriend now and I am not interested in having one. I am always thinking about how different my life could be if I hadn’t been raped and my dad killed. I take long to fall asleep because thoughts of the rape and watching my dad being killed flood my mind. I cry a lot. I have thoughts of killing myself. I feel worthless. I hate Kikuyus. They did this to me. I haven’t received any counselling and I am not in any support group. I would like counselling. This would be my priority for now. –Human Rights Watch interview with Achieng’ Y, Nairobi, November 14, 2014
“You are Useless”: Profile of Nyawira P
It was on Friday, January 25, 2008 at around 11:30 p.m. Someone called my husband and said a neighbor had been shot, and that Kalenjin youths were burning homes belonging to Kikuyus. I took my daughter who had just given birth and her newborn to a small hut in the farm and hid them there. I returned to the house to pack a few things. As I was entering the house, some men grabbed me. They pushed me against the wall and tore my clothes. I remember the first four men raping me. They were talking in low voices in Kalenjin. I passed out and do not know how many others raped me. When I woke up I felt blood coming from my vagina. The pain was so sharp like someone had inserted sharp objects inside of me.
I continue to feel a lot of pain in my back and lower abdomen. My hips ache. I cannot lift a load, bend or carry something heavy on the back, or work on the farm for long periods. Sometimes my whole leg loses feeling. I was told by the doctor I have a cervical infection. Sometimes when I think of the experience I cry. For three years I never wanted to see a Kalenjin man. When I am walking and I see young men I avoid them and have to look away.
After the rape my husband changed and refused to sleep in the same bedroom with me. He used to beat me, telling me to go to my Kalenjin husbands. He would ridicule me: “You are useless; you better die. I cannot even touch you.” Many times he would chase me out of the house. He used to pick girls at the shopping center and bring them home. My husband told his family about the rape and now they despise me.
My husband died this year  and his brothers want to take my land. I helped my father-in-law to identify and buy this land. I borrowed 2,000 shillings [US$20] from my sister and built a house on this land. And despite all the years I have lived here, I am very anxious it can all be taken away and I could lose my home. If that happened I would have nowhere to go. -Human Rights Watch interview with Nyawira P, Nakuru, November 17, 2014
“I don’t know what I will Cook for Dinner Today”: Profile of Wangui L
My husband became hostile towards me when I told him that I was raped. He said I wanted the rape. He took all what we had been given at the [IDP] camp and left me. IOM [International Office for Migration] built him a house in Eldoret in our plot. He lives there, while I live in this camp. He doesn’t support the children at all. Life is hard for us. I rent land to grow maize and beans to feed us. But the rains have been poor and we don’t get good harvests. I am sick. I have terrible pain in my lower abdomen and back. I cannot work as I used to. We are getting poorer and poorer. I never lacked food before, but it is a regular thing these days. I don’t even know what I will cook for dinner today. The government should pay us. We have been suffering for seven years. Human Rights Watch interview with Wangui L., Naivasha, November 9, 2014
“This Child is a Bush Baby”: Profile of Akinyi L
I was raped in late December 2007 on my way to Kisumu. Six men took me and six other women to a nearby bush and raped us.
My husband loathed me after the rape. There was always tension between us. He used to look at me as if I was just a thing. Things became worse after I gave birth. He would say, “This child is a bush baby. You should have aborted her.” He was not nice to the child. If he found her drinking or eating something he would just grab it. If she sat on the chair he would say, “Did your father buy that chair?” And remove her from the seat. Sometimes he referred to her as just “it.”
He also became abusive towards me. He would tell me, “Take your bush child and take it where you collected it from. You are rotten and you should not sleep in my house.”
He would tell me to go buy steel wire and wash my vagina because it had been eaten by thieves and produced a bush baby. One day he came home with another woman and told me to sleep on the floor. I left him that day in 2009. -Human Rights Watch interview with Akinyi L, Nairobi, November 6, 2014
“The Harm I did to my Daughter”: Profile of Adhiambo E
I was raped on December 31, 2007 in Nairobi. I was 17. I was returning to my cousin’s home after visiting a friend when I met a group of men. They greeted me in Kikuyu. I could have returned the greetings but the words didn’t come out.
I was so scared. I felt something hard hit the back of my head. I lost consciousness. I came to the next day about 6 a.m. I had no clothes. I was bleeding and my body was aching.
After some time I started getting sick and found out that I was pregnant. My life came to a standstill after I had the baby. I couldn’t return to school and I had no family support. The elderly woman whom I was living with and was helping me went to live upcountry and I was left alone with the baby. I was struggling.
I became a bartender and ended up in prostitution. I suffered lots of abuse then.
I abused Brooklyn [the name she gave her daughter] and even attempted suicide. One time I had planned to go to Gikomba [market] and leave her there. I have abused Brooklyn so much that now she is very poor in class and a child who is very afraid. She fears me. I used to beat her badly. When I missed food or something I used to beat her. I used to tell her, “I would be very happy if you died. Why can’t you just die and leave me alone?” She has a mark on her left wrist and right thigh where I cut her with a razor. I wanted to punish her so that she doesn’t hurt me by asking me for food. I started beating her when she was very young, not even one year. But I didn’t care.
After some time I met someone who started to counsel me and to help me to love Brooklyn. I have been doing my best and I can see some progress. Brooklyn would never ask me for anything. But now she comes and asks me for money to buy a mandazi [a type of doughnut]. I am not where I would want to be with her, but I am working hard. I need to undo the harm that I did to my daughter. I have a long way to go. -Human Rights Watch interview with Adhiambo E, Nairobi, October 5, 2015