What next for victims of 2007 post-election violence

Access to Justice / Advocacy Statements / UncategorizedOctober 9, 20140 CommentsKituo Cha Sheria

Today would have marked the beginning of the trial of President Uhuru, who is charged as an indirect co-perpetrator and is facing five counts for his alleged role in crimes against humanity. The date has been postponed, giving room for two status conferences to discuss the status of cooperation between the Prosecutor and the Kenya government.

The harmonious sound of voices raised in uplifting singing rises over the Saturday afternoon din at the public grounds in Kibera. A group of women from Kibera Peace and Fairness organisation are concluding their meeting with a song about peace in Kenya, about good governance and the assertion that women too can contribute to the change that Kenya aspires to. One of the melodious voices is that of Felistus Akoth Audi. She stands tall with the other women, and when she sings, the harmony of her voice masks the disharmony within her heart.

Audi has just come from the place in Mashimoni village, where her son, then only 14 years old, was shot by a policeman on the morning of December 30, 2007. He, along with many other children, had gathered outside when they heard gunshots. Suddenly, her son fell to the ground, screaming and writhing in pain. Audi was out fetching water at the time, but her neighbours were kind enough to rush her son to Masaba Hospital in spite of the danger to themselves.

The policeman’s only punishment was a transfer to another station, but for Audi, this incident marked the end of life as she knew it. The following months were spent caring for her son, who required repeated hospitalisation to treat his badly injured leg. Her husband’s entire business stock was destroyed by marauding mobs, and the family was forced to flee.

Audi’s face twists with bitterness as she describes the trials that her family has endured as a result of the post-election violence that erupted following the disputed 2007-08 elections. “I have got many mental and emotional problems. When I got married, I was brought here to Kibera and I knew this was our home. Now at the age of 40, I have had to start life over in Eastlands, an area that I am not used to. It has destroyed my family finances and my son has dropped out of school.”

In Mathare North’s Chewa Village, Jane Waithera Theuri was a successful business woman when an arson attack destroyed her home, green grocery business and rental houses. Until three weeks ago, when she was forced out to pave way for construction, she was still living in the compound of Soul Winning church, where she ran to for refuge all those years ago. If the councillor of her ward and well-wishers had not stepped in to help her put up another temporary house, Theuri, her children and grandchildren would have been out in the cold.

“When I was given residence at the church, my children lost direction. I could not start a business because we had to spend all the money I received from my eldest son on food. My younger children started drinking and taking drugs. One of my children, who was not yet 20, became a robber and was recently killed by policemen,” she recounts tearfully.

Such stories of spiralling disintegration of family and fortune are replayed across many parts of the country. They tell of the long-term damage caused by the sudden spate of violence that left more than 1,000 dead and thousands injured and displaced.


Don’t be vague, let’s go to The Hague

It took the intervention of Kofi Annan and the Panel of Eminent African Personalities to break the stalemate, and in February 2008, the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Accord was signed. Shortly after, the Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (Cipev), popularly known as the Waki Commission, was set up. When the commission handed over its report to then incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, it simultaneously submitted a sealed envelope with names of those thought to bear most responsibility for the violence to chief mediator Annan.

The report recommended the establishment of a Special Tribunal to seek accountability of the persons bearing greatest responsibility, especially for crimes against humanity, failure to which Annan was to hand over the envelope to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. “Don’t be vague, let’s go to The Hague,” became the catch phrase.

This cry was picked up by victims, who placed all their hopes for some form of justice and closure on the outcome of the ICC process. Ironically, two of the six people whose names were in the envelope – incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, were among those that campaigned against local justice mechanisms. Cases against three of the initial suspects were dropped, leaving Kenyatta, Ruto and radio journalist Joseph arap Sang.

October 7 would have marked the beginning of the trial of Kenyatta, who is charged as an indirect co-perpetrator and is facing five counts for his alleged role in crimes against humanity – murder, deportation, forcible transfer, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts. Instead, the date has been postponed, giving room for two status conferences to discuss the status of cooperation between the Prosecutor and the Kenya government. Kenya’s Attorney General, Githu Muigai, will represent Kenya in the first status conference today, October 7, while Kenyatta will appear in person for the second status conference to be held tomorrow.

The prosecution has been hampered by lack of evidence, alleged witness intimidation and coaching, and lack of cooperation by the Kenya government. The ICC’s capacity to bring justice to victims is already questionable, based on its previous success rates and the waning support from the signatories to the Rome statute, especially those from the African continent. In Kenya, news that the existing hurdles could lead to termination of the case against Uhuru are eliciting mixed reactions.

Aimee Ongeso coordinates advocacy, governance and community programmes at Kituo Cha Sheria, a legal advice centre in Nairobi. She has spent close to five years working with victims of post-election violence. In her opinion, the ICC process may have started to go wrong right at the beginning, during investigations led by Moreno-Ocampo. Nonetheless, she feels that Kenya must accept its share of the blame. “The ICC could have messed up in the beginning but the state must take responsibility for not cooperating fully with the court,” she says.

More than anything, she raises concerns about the apparent disregard for international justice mechanisms, which she feels could set a bad precedence. “It is very important that people realise that the ICC, more than anything, in addition to bringing justice to the victims, is fighting impunity, and impunity is fought from top down, not from down up,” she states.

Other experts are of the opinion that justice will come in many forms, not just from prosecutions at the ICC. Francis Mutuku Nguli was the Executive Director of PeaceNet when the violence broke out. The nationwide network of peace building organisations actively participated in calling for peaceful resolution of the conflict. The peace and conflict expert feels that the process towards peace and justice begun when the peace accord was signed. The evidence, according to him, is in the new institutions that were created to address underlying roots of conflict and major reforms that took place in the judiciary and police force.

Nonetheless, he acknowledges that some issues are far from resolved. “Land emerged as one of the key drivers of conflict in 2007, especially in the Rift Valley. With the recent attacks in Lamu County, it is clear that we must address the issue of land in a more comprehensive manner to reduce conflict,” he adds.

Justice will be a long time coming

In the meantime, victims like Audi, faced with the reality that it is too late to get heard, are trying to accept what happened and live with their fate. Jane Onyango, the founder of Kibera Peace and Fairness Organization, where some victims regularly meet, explains that this may not be entirely possible if they don’t get some form of closure. “If I, as a child, knew what was done to my mother, and nothing happened, or I grew up as an orphan because my parents were killed, I would grow up very bitter. We may be creating a very bitter people in the society and that is dangerous for everybody.”

This bitterness could be borne from unfulfilled hopes for justice, such as Audi’s. Despite the meetings she attends, she cannot hide her frustration as she says, “When I hear about The Hague, I get so upset that I cannot speak. I don’t know whom I’ll run to for help, because that is where we thought our voices would be heard, but now I see we will get nothing from there.”

More than six years after the violence, the blood has dried and scar tissue grown over open wounds; and grass has grown over homes that were once filled with love and laughter. But the lives of Audi, Theuri and thousands of other victims are still coloured by what happened to them. With no established local mechanisms to systematically bring perpetrators to account, questions remain as to how sustainable peace will be. The recent move by 154 victims to join a seemingly collapsing case against Uhuru is an indication of the thirst for justice, according to Ongeso, who expresses concern that if nothing is done to fulfil this need, the country may very likely experience another cycle of violence.

Story by BY CHRISTINE BUKANIA of the Star <http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-192956/what-next-victims-2007-post-election-violence>

on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 – 00:00 —  –

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