A witness said non-governmental organizations working with victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) committed during the upheaval that followed the December 2007 presidential election were “upset” when a top prosecutor said police did not treat the sexual violence as conflict-related.
Saida Ali told the Kenyan High Court on Wednesday that when the senior prosecutor spoke at a civil society function in October 2012, representatives of non-governmental organizations present had expected to hear more from the senior prosecutor than there was little that could be done about the SGBV cases they had on file.
“We were quite upset. We were upset because we were expecting more tangible action,” Ali told the court.
Ali is the 14th witness from the petitioners’ side to testify in the case filed by eight victims of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated between December 2007 and February 2008. Three non-governmental organizations are co-petitioners with the victims. Ali served as executive director of one of those organizations, the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW).
Her testimony focused on her work at COVAW and the organization’s interest in the case as well as her expertise of several years’ standing in the area of women’s rights, particularly in dealing with sexual violence cases.
The senior prosecutor she referred to in her testimony is Dorcas Oduor, a Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions. Oduor was speaking about the work of a multi-agency task force she chaired during the October 2012 civil society function Ali referred to.
The petitioners’ lawyer, Willis Otieno, had a clip from a Kenyan television station, Citizen TV, played in court in which Oduor was seen explaining to journalists why it was unlikely prosecutions would flow from the case files the task force was examining. Otieno also asked Ali to read excerpts from a report of Capital News and another report from the International Justice Monitor on the same subject. He then asked her to comment on those reports and the function that she attended in October 2012.
Ali said the emphasis of Oduor’s presentation in October 2012 was on the statements victims gave the police and why there was likely not to be any prosecutions. Ali said this shifted the blame to the victim of sexual violence. She also said the police missed the point in not recognizing the sexual violence perpetrated after the December 2007 election was conflict-related.
Earlier in her testimony, Ali said the task force asked COVAW to second two legal officers to the task force. She said the letter with this request was dated September 5, 2012. Ali said this was after the task force’s mandate had expired in August that year. The official government notice setting up the task force said its mandate was for six months, starting in February 2012.
Ali said COVAW did not second staff to the task force because the request was made after the mandate of the task force had ended. She said another reason COVAW did not second staff to the task force is because by the time the organization received the request, they were already providing what she called “psycho-social” support to victims of SGBV from the post-election violence period. She said because COVAW had gained the trust of the victims at that point, they wanted to focus on the support they were giving them.
During his examination in chief, Otieno asked Ali whether she was aware of other violations committed during the post-election violence. Ali said she was, elaborating that she was aware people were killed and others lost their livelihoods. Otieno then asked her whether any compensation was paid to any victims. She said she was aware some compensation was paid to victims, particularly people who were displaced by the violence in 2008.
“Are you aware of the victims of SGBV being compensated?” Otieno asked.
“No. Not anything that I am aware of,” replied Ali.
Otieno later asked her about a plan announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta during his 2015 State of the Nation address to provide restorative justice to victims of past violations in Kenya. Otieno asked Ali whether she was aware if victims of SGBV from the post-election violence period had received any restorative justice from the government since then. She said she was not aware.
Ali also testified on how COVAW came to identify the victims who would participate in the petition. She said that this was based on COVAW’s interaction with the community and as more people approached them for assistance during the post-election violence period they began documenting what they were saying happened to them.
She said this is how COVAW learned about those perpetrating the violence targeting people of all ages, minors and adults older than 25 years. Ali said they were also told about how men and boys were targeted.
“Was it an easy process to have the victims participate in this case?” asked Otieno.
“This is tough. That was tough. And I can say for sure it continues to be tough for the victim petitioners,” Ali replied.
Otieno closed his examination in chief by asking Ali why the petitioners initiated the case.
“We would wish for the government to acknowledge that sexual and gender-based violence indeed happened because I see that as a critical part of the healing,” Ali said.
Otieno asked what the petitioners wanted. Ali said reparations for the victims of sexual and gender-based violence. He then asked whether the organizations that are part of the petition wish to be compensated.
“Not at all,” Ali said.
Later she added that when people heard victims are demanding reparations they focus on the monetary aspect.
“It is really critical continuous support is in place to make sure that the victims of sexual and gender-based violence have psycho-social support,” said Ali.
The hearing will continue Thursday when government lawyers will cross-examine Ali.
The petition has been filed by six women and two men survivors of SGBV 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 COVAW, the Independent Medical and Legal Unit, the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists, and Physicians for Human Rights.
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.