Africa, Armed Conflicts, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

Kenyan Women Look to the Hague for Justice

George Kebaso

NAIROBI, Jun 9 2010 (IPS) - Hanging from a rafter in Jane Wanjiku’s home is a calendar bearing the image of the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. It’s an illustration of how the ICC has seized the imagination of ill-treated people around the world.

Jane Wanjiku, internally displaced by post-election violence in Kenya, pins her hopes for justice on ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. Credit:  George Kebaso/IPS

Jane Wanjiku, internally displaced by post-election violence in Kenya, pins her hopes for justice on ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. Credit: George Kebaso/IPS

Wanjiku has lived in Kibera for more than 60 years and witnessed many upheavals. But the 74-year-old says she has never seen violence as severe as what followed the 2007 elections.

She was evicted from her house during the chaos. Inside the corrugated iron shack that she now calls home, among bundles of clothes, a two-year-old sleeps. Baby Nyakio is Wanjiku’s great-granddaughter, abandoned by her mother – then 16 – at the height of the violence.

The people who chased Wanjiku from her home, like many of the perpetrators of horrific crimes in the weeks and months that followed the December elections, live just a few metres away.

Some two thousand people were killed during the post-election violence and about half a million were displaced.

Like many Kenyans, Wanjiku doubts that the country’s own justice system will ever bring them to book.

“Justice for the victims of the post election violence that took place in Kenya will only come from the Hague,” she says.

Anticipating trouble, Rose Kananu sent her five children to stay with her mother, 350 kilometres east of Nairobi before the 2007 elections. She had been sheltering with others from the waves of violence in Kibera for almost a week when she heard cries of anguish then a clatter of boots outside.

Alone in the house at the time, she says she cannot describe the fear she felt.

“I thought the people who ran past my house had gone, only to be confronted as I left the house to try to escape. A strong hand cupped my mouth and pushed me back into the house,” she told IPS.

“The rest is too painful for me to share.”

The number of rapes committed during Kenya’s post-election violence is unknown, partly because many women were reluctant to report cases, and partly because police did not – or would not – record the data.

Kananu survived her ordeal, but her faith in elections has been shaken.

“I will never vote again. I will not be in Nairobi when another election approaches,” she says. She doesn’t believe that local authorities will investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes.

“I am appealing to the government to cooperate with The Hague so that all those who participated in the violence face the law,” she said.

Ray of hope

When Moreno-Ocampo arrived in Kenya on May 8, Kananu, Wanjiku and thousands of other women saw a ray of hope.

The ICC prosecutor had come to open formal criminal investigations into the political leaders who organised the violence. His mandate from the Court was to identify and prosecute those bearing the greatest responsibility. The list was narrowed down to six persons.

“Crimes happened here. People were killed, there was rape, houses were burnt; that happened,” the ICC prosecutor told the press when he arrived. “This is not about political parties, this is not about political responsibilities, this is about criminal responsibilities. That’s my job.”

Adopted in 1998, the Rome Statute laid the groundwork for the first permanent international criminal court with worldwide jurisdiction for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

But despite the Rome Statute’s identification of crimes against women as falling under its jurisdiction and several U.N. Security Council resolutions acknowledging the need to end impunity for those who commit sexual violence in armed conflict, it is unclear whether Kenya’s women will get the justice they deserve.

Survivors question the ICC’s decision to narrow its investigation to only six prime suspects. They insist they want their day in court and a chance to name their aggressors.

“We know them. They are here with us,” ” said a spokesperson for the Kibera Structure Owners Organisation. “How can they be allowed to lead the peace process when they participated in killing; destroying and stealing others’ property?”

The group, championing reparations and justice for the post election violence victims of Kibera slums, wants the Kenyan government to establish a platform where they can identify those who participated in the violence.

At the Review Conference of the Rome Statute taking place in neighbouring Uganda between May 31 and Jun. 11, women’s rights activists are also demanding justice for victims of gender-based and sexual violence in armed conflicts around the world.  

The Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice, an international women’s human rights organisation, is calling for the inclusion of situation-specific forms of violence against women that are not explicitly articulated in the definition of crimes in the Rome Statute. They are also demanding the participation of victims in the justice process locally, nationally and internationally, amongst other recommendations. 

The conference is expected to adopt a declaration, resolution and pledges on implementing national measures and legislation relevant to victims and witnesses before its conclusion on Jun. 11. The recommendations could pave the way for women survivors of Kenya’s post election violence to one day be heard.

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