Revisiting Sexual Violence during the PEV in Kenya

 

 Published on  13/07/2010 by EAS

Physical and structural violence targeting women is still profound. This does not in any way demean or downplay the suffering of men, especially boys. Both genders face different challenges in post-conflict situations. Women are frequently targets of sexual and other forms of violence, often systematically perpetrated. However, their needs tend to be neglected after violence.

Already, Kenyans have forgotten the heinous violations that women went through during post-election violence and the gruesome sufferings they are still undergoing now. It is even difficult in this quasi-socio political transition context where society is still largely patriarchal. Far too often, remedial measures taken after violence tend to neglect women’s experience of the violence with little regard for the distinct and complex rights’ violations and injuries they suffered.

Although violence and other forms of violations generally harm a large part of the affected population, women are extremely vulnerable to the violence whose consequences include bodily injury, displacement, the loss of family members and other forms of suffering.

The taboos associated with crimes associated to gender-based violence, which affect not only the victim’s sense of human integrity and dignity but also her family, lead to the neglect of the women affected and impunity for the perpetrators, thus entrenching impunity, distorts the historical gender-based violence facts and undermines the legitimacy of processes put forward to address these legacies. While the local and international communities have shown willingness to deal with violence against women, it has proved difficult to challenge the persistent gender prejudices that help perpetuate impunity for such crimes.

Thankfully, we have taken a bold step forward of not only developing transformative gender and transitional justice engagement tools, but also increasing investment in championing the need for accelerated gender justice. This initiative should be strengthened as it aims at focusing on impunity for gender-based violence beyond sexual violence against women. It conducts analysis and advocacy on the measures taken to address violence and seeks to increase the voice of women in transitional justice processes.

Punish sexual crimes

It is encouraging that violence against women is clearly prohibited under international law. Sexual violence in these circumstances is considered to be more grave a crime than during peacetime, because of the way it is used as a weapon to target not only the direct victim, but also the collective community to which the victim belongs. The gravity of these crimes has been confirmed in various judgments of the ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Their jurisprudence demonstrates that sexual violence can amount to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes if the acts in question form part of a large-scale campaign against a civilian population, and are sufficiently linked to the context of the conflict.

Gender-based violence must be viewed from a human rights perspective, for women’s rights are human rights. This means that general human rights treaties also apply to women, implying that the State has a duty of due diligence to investigate, prosecute and punish sexual crimes. The State also can also be held responsible for failing to prevent human rights violations, even for crimes perpetrated by non-State actors.

There is still a need to anchor gender analysis that moves beyond a focus on sexual violence against women and women’s participation in transitional justice processes. We advocate for more holistic interventions on gender justice. This mainstreaming will involve focusing on the ways in which gender identities and power relationships shape the nature and consequences of the violations including militarised masculinities.

The debate of post-election violence justice should vigorously go beyond participation of women. We urge all to embrace preventative measures to ensure that violence is not carried over through the transition period back into the home as occurs in many transitions. We have to link gender violence and broader issues of socio-economic rights empowerment.

By Njeri Kabeberi, Executive Director Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD); Ndung’u Wainaina, International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) and Ann Njogu, Chair, Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW).

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