Two witnesses told the High Court of Kenya that victims of sexual and gender-based violence remained traumatized from the abuse they suffered during the violence that followed the December 2007 presidential election.
On Thursday, April 14, the witnesses testified before High Court Judge Issac Lenaola. During the post-election violence period, they worked for the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) Center at Kenyatta National Hospital, the country’s main referral hospital, and years after that.
Social worker and trauma counselor Theresa Njore and retired nurse Elizabeth Mukhisa were testifying in a hearing on a petition eight SGBV victims and four non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have filed.
The petitioners, which include the NGOs Coalition on Violence Against Women, Independent Medico-Legal Unit, the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, and Physicians for Human Rights, are asking the court to find that the government failed to prevent the violence and protect the survivors from sexual violence. The petitioners are also asking the court to find the government failed to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. They are also asking the court to find the government has failed to provide effective remedies to the victims.
Njore, who was the first to testify on Thursday, said the sexual violence survivors from the post-election violence period continued to be part of or form support groups years after their trauma. Njore said the practice at the center was to organize support groups for sexual violence victims, which lasted for about six months before being discontinued.
She told the court it took about a year before the center could place these particular patients into support groups. She said before that her and fellow counselors were working on “stabilizing” the victims. The violence that followed the December 2007 election ended in February 2008. Njore said it was only in 2009 that the center was able to place the survivors of that violence with support groups.
Njore said that after six months of being with a support group, many of the victims had not healed, and they continued to be members of a support group managed by the center. In 2012, the center withdrew the post-election violence SGBV patients from the support groups because they had remained members for longer than usual, Njore told the court.
“There are members who still required support,” Njore said. “There are still some people who went in for individual therapy.”
Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Edwin Okello asked Njore about who initially recorded her statement and the steps that happened next before she finally signed it on April 5 this year. Okello asked Njore whether the statement she initially made before lawyer Kethi Kilonzo is the same statement she signed at the office of another lawyer, Willis Otieno.
Kilonzo was the lawyer who originally filed the petition on behalf of the eight victims and four non-governmental organizations. Otieno is currently representing the petitioners.
Okello also asked Njore if any of the eight victim petitioners told her whether they had reported the abuse they suffered to the police. Njore said she knew of only one of them who reported their case to the police.
She said many of the victims she dealt with just after post-election violence had told her that their attackers were in uniform, and many of them feared reporting their cases to the police.
Njore told the court that in 2013 the center received its first donations of what she called dignity kits. She said the kit consists of a change of clothing, including underwear and soap. She said the change of clothing is important particularly if a victim of sexual violence reaches the center within 72 hours of being attacked. Njore said the victim’s clothes would be kept for forensic evidence, and the victim would need other clothes to change into. Njore said that the center did not have dignity kits in 2008 when the post-election violence occurred.
Next to testify was Elizabeth Mukhisa, the nurse in charge of the SGBV center at Kenyatta National Hospital during the post-election violence period. Mukhisa told the court the sexual violence patients the center received before the post-election violence were minimal and manageable. She said that from March 2008 the patients they received escalated.
Mukhisa told the court some of the patients she handled during the post-election violence period told her they could identify their attackers by face but not by name. She said this in response to questions from Okello. She said none of the patients told her that the attackers were neighbors. She also said the patients told her some of the attackers were in uniform, and other attackers were young men who were looters.
Mukhisa said some of the patients now avoid people who wear a uniform out of fear of what happened to them in 2008. She also said that some of the patients from that period still call her to date even though she retired from Kenyatta National Hospital in 2014.
Okello also asked Mukhisa questions similar to the ones he asked Njore about who initially recorded her statement and the steps that happened next before she finally signed her statement on April 5 this year. Okello wanted to know from Mukhisa whether the statement she initially made before Kilonzo is the same statement she signed at the office of Otieno.
When Otieno asked Mukhisa questions in re-examination, she said the center needs to be a one-stop center for victims of sexual violence. She said by the time she retired from the center, patients received counselling at the center. She said if they require any examination, then they are taken to the casualty department. She said if they require any tests to be done, they are taken to the laboratory away from the center. She said the center needs a medical officer posted to it, and that doctor should be a gynecologist.
Njore and Mukhisa were originally scheduled to testify on Wednesday. Judge Lenaola, however, postponed the hearing to Thursday to allow government lawyers time to read through the witness statements they received on Monday this week.
On Wednesday, dozens of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence during the post-election violence of December 2007 to February 2008 read a statement in solidarity with the petitioners. They said that the petitioners want the truth about what happened to them to be known and the state to acknowledge that they suffered.
“The case was filed as a response to the lack of serious action on the part of the government to investigate sexual violations that occurred during the PEV, refusal to acknowledge victims, and failure to provide medical and psychological treatment that many survivors urgently require,” said Clarisse Akinyi, who read the statement on behalf of the other survivors.
“It will be recalled that the attempt by the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to charge sexual violence crimes in Kibera and Naivasha did not get past the pre-trial stage,” continued Akinyi.
“Despite pledges to reinvestigate these crimes, not much has been witnessed. The absence of prosecutions does not negate the truth of what we know. Sexual violence happened to us – in our homes, in transit, in camps for the displaced, and in every space in Kenya,” said Akinyi.
The hearing of the petition continued on Friday, April 15, but it was closed to the public.
The petition has been filed by six women and two men survivors of sexual and gender-based violence during the post-election period. Their identity is not public. When they testified in court, those sessions were closed to the public. The other petitioners are the Coalition against Violence against Women, the Independent Medical and Legal Unit and the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya Chapter.
The petition has been filed against the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector General of Police, the Independent Police Oversight Authority, the Ministry of Medical Services, and Ministry of Public Health. When the petition was filed in February 2013, the latter two ministries existed. They have since been merged to form the Ministry of Health.
The Open Society Foundations has been providing support to the ongoing litigation in Kenyan courts. For more information, please see the following case report.