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Kenyan officials complicit in violence, and the delays in justice

Posted by Administrator on September 27, 2009

Geoffrey York

Nairobi — From Monday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Sunday, Sep. 27, 2009 09:44PM EDT

When she had mustered enough strength to leave hospital, 57-year-old Esther Wairimu went to the police with the medical evidence of how she was brutally attacked and gang-raped in her home.

The police shrugged. They said there was nothing they could do. The rapists were their own colleagues: members of a paramilitary wing of the police.

Almost 20 months later, Ms. Wairimu is still waiting for justice. Thousands of other Kenyans are also waiting. Despite massive evidence and growing international pressure, Kenya has failed to convict even a single person for the horrific wave of killings and rapes that shook the nation after a disputed election in 2007.

At least 1,500 people were killed and more than 600,000 were forced to flee their homes in the postelection violence. The attacks have been graphically documented in detailed reports, commissions, inquiries and studies. Yet Kenya’s politicians are still dithering and arguing about what to do – largely because the evidence points to many of their own top leaders as key organizers and inciters of the violence.

This month, the Kenyan parliament is making yet another attempt to set up a special tribunal to prosecute the killers and rapists. Again, a bill has been introduced. Again, the bill is expected to fail.

The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague has threatened to take over the prosecution if Kenya fails to act by Sept. 30. The court has a list of Kenyan perpetrators – including several cabinet ministers – and has already begun hiring Kenyan investigators and translators. But if the ICC intervenes, only a tiny handful of perpetrators would be prosecuted – perhaps only two or three – because the international court lacks the capacity to prosecute a larger number.

“In this country,” Ms. Wairimu says, “there are two kinds of people: the big and the small. It’s the small people who were raped, who lost their property and their children. It was all because of decisions by the big people. They should be arrested and put in jail.”

Like most victims, she has given up on Kenya’s politicians. Only the judges in The Hague are honest enough to prosecute the guilty ones, she says.

Picture Above: Esther Wairimu, a 57-year-old grandmother of five, was gang-raped by paramilitary forces at her home in Kibera, a Nairobi slum, during violence after Kenya’s disputed election in 2007.

Ms. Wairimu, a secondhand clothes vendor and grandmother of five, was in her home in the sprawling Nairobi slum of Kibera on the afternoon of Jan. 30 last year when a train arrived with troops of the General Service Unit, the much-feared paramilitary elite of Kenya’s police, often used for riot control.

Violence was raging across the country, and the GSU was under orders to quell it. Instead its members were among the worst perpetrators.

Three GSU men broke down her door and burst into her house, claiming they were searching for gang leaders. They looked under her bed. Then they ordered her to take off her clothes. “We want people like you because you have no diseases,” they told her. They covered her face with a sheet, threw her on the bed and repeatedly raped her.

After they left, the slum was still filled with fighting, and she didn’t dare to leave her house. The next day, a neighbour found her and cleaned her with salty water. When she finally reached a hospital on Feb. 9, she needed a week of treatment. “There was a lot of damage to my body because I was old,” she says.

When she left the hospital, she gathered the medical reports to take to the police as evidence. “They told us to report to the police so that we could have justice and compensation,” she recalls. “But nothing has happened since then. I have a heavy heart. I am afraid for the future of my grandchildren.”

She still suffers pelvic pain, dizziness and psychological damage from her ordeal. “It will never go away,” she says.

At one Nairobi hospital alone, about 230 rape victims were admitted for treatment during the wave of violence from Dec. 30, 2007 to Feb. 2, 2008. “About 90 of these cases were as a result of gang rape carried out by between two and 11 men,” said a report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

“These incidents of rape appear to have been targeted to punish the victims for their perceived political positions based on their ethnic identities,” the commission said. “Sexual violence was meted out against members of ‘enemy communities.’“ The commission published a list of 219 alleged perpetrators who should be investigated for possible prosecution for the postelection violence, including seven MPs, three assistant ministers, a deputy prime minister and seven cabinet ministers – many of the most powerful politicians in the country. So far, none have been charged with any crimes.

Kenya failed to prosecute those who attacked innocent people in the bloody aftermath of the 1992 and 1997 elections. Now it is on the verge of the same decision again.

“Because of this history, impunity has been entrenched and has even gained legitimacy in this country,” said Ndungu Wainaina, executive director of the Nairobi-based International Center for Policy and Conflict. There are fears that Kenya could face a worse outbreak of violence in its next election.

Kenya’s foreign donors, who pushed for the creation of a coalition government in 2008 after the disputed election, are losing patience with the constant delays. “We are waiting, we are disappointed,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Nairobi last month.

Her words were followed last week by a U.S. threat to impose travel bans on at least 15 senior Kenyan officials for failing to move ahead with long-discussed reforms, including the prosecution of those who led the postelection violence.

Yet the Kenyan government has rejected every attempt to set up a prosecuting tribunal. Instead it wants to send the cases to a truth and reconciliation commission – a toothless body that is overwhelmed with other historical cases to review from the past four decades.

This month, a group of MPs is trying again to revive the idea of a special tribunal to prosecute the killers and their organizers. They have introduced another bill in parliament and are campaigning vigorously for it. But they admit they are facing an uphill struggle. Powerful government members are refusing to support the bill.

“We’re facing very stiff opposition from the beneficiaries of impunity,” said Gitobu Imanyara, the MP who introduced the latest tribunal bill.

Patricia Nyaundi, executive director of Kenya’s Federation of Women Lawyers, is one of the civil-society activists who is lobbying for the tribunal bill. Five months ago, she was famous for leading a “sex boycott” of Kenya’s politicians, in which their wives were asked to refrain from sex as a way of putting pressure on the coalition government to stop infighting and proceed with promised reforms.

Now she is trying to mobilize Kenyans to support the tribunal bill. “This is the last chance for a tribunal,” she said. “If it fails, we will have the International Criminal Court to fall back on, but it won’t get as many of the perpetrators as we want.”

Without a strong lobbying campaign by the public, the politicians are unlikely to accept a tribunal, she said. “They can’t be trusted with this legislation.”

The victims of the gang rapes are convinced that the rapists will never be arrested by any Kenyan authorities. “For me, I only believe in The Hague,” says Pamela Akinyi, a 45-year-old woman in the Kibera slum who was raped by a group of GSU men when they entered the slum on Jan. 30, 2008.

She weeps quietly as she remembers the attack. Four of her children watched her being assaulted by the men. She later discovered that she was infected with the AIDS virus.

Picture Above: Pamela Akinyi, 45, a mother of five and resident of Nairobi’s Kibera slum, was gang-raped at her home in front of her children during the violence that followed Kenya’s disputed election in 2007.

“They hurt me so much that I was bleeding,” she says. “After they left, my children boiled water for me, and I slowly tried to clean myself until I could walk a little. When my husband heard that I was raped, he ran away and has never come back. He blamed me for it. He said I should have fought them off.”

Since then, the only help she received was from a local counselling group, supported by CARE, the international development agency, which established community reporting centres where the victims could get counselling and treatment.

“The politicians in Kenya are playing with us, they’ve exploited us, they don’t care about us,” Ms. Akinyi says. “None of them had their children raped or their property stolen. Nothing will be done to them in Kenya – our faith in the justice system is gone. They should all go to The Hague. They should all pay for what they did. We want to see justice done.”

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