By Emma Batha
LONDON, Feb 15 – Hundreds of girls and woman raped during Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence are struggling with devastating health problems including HIV, a rights group said on Monday, as it urged the government to provide help and compensation.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), which interviewed more than 170 rape victims, said most were still in desperate need of medical attention and were unable to work, compounding their poverty.
“We were shocked to find how many survivors are sick, living in poverty and stigmatized, ignored, and often rejected instead of helped by the government,” said HRW women’s rights researcher Agnes Odhiambo.
More than 1,200 Kenyans were killed and 600,000 displaced in weeks of ethnic bloodshed following a disputed election in 2007. HRW said officials reported at least 900 cases of sexual violence but that this was likely an underestimate.
Last year Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the creation of a 10 billion Kenyan shilling ($98 million) “restorative justice” fund for victims of the violence, but HRW said it had yet to be implemented.
Researchers said many of the women they interviewed had been gang-raped, some by more than 10 men, leaving them with terrible injuries, incontinence, infections and psychological trauma.
Some said their attackers had inserted guns, sticks and bottles inside them. Others were raped in front of family members, including young children, HRW said in its report ‘I Just Sit and Wait to Die’.
Some men and boys also said they had been raped, forcibly circumcised or castrated.
Attackers included members of the security forces and militia groups, researchers said.
“My body is not the same,” one 53-year-old woman told HRW describing how she had been left wracked with pain and partially incontinent after being gang-raped.
“I haven’t gone to a big hospital because I don’t have money. I have so much shame. I feel hopeless. I just sit and wait to die.”
Some women and girls were infected with HIV but cannot afford to travel to get free medication, the report said.
HRW called on the government to prioritize finding survivors who need urgent medical attention and to ensure access to free healthcare and psycho-social services.
“In almost every case, survivors described profound feelings of hopelessness, self-hatred, shame, anger, and sadness, many times reinforced by their isolation from being stigmatized as rape victims. Some contemplated suicide,” HRW said.
Some women had been rejected or abused by husbands and family members as a direct result of the rape.
The report also highlighted the stigma, violence and rejection suffered by children born from rape, describing them as “invisible victims”.
It said that while the government had provided limited compensation to people who were displaced or lost property, survivors of sexual violence had been largely ignored.
Only a handful of people have been prosecuted for the sexual violence and findings from an investigation into police misconduct have never been made public, it said.
“The Kenyan government has shirked its responsibilities toward the post-election victims of sexual violence,” said Odhiambo. “It is crucial for the government to carefully plan and deliver reparations for these victims to alleviate their suffering.”
A police spokesman declined to comment before the report’s publication. The government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
($1 = 101.7500 Kenyan shillings)
(This report was made possible by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)