In Kenya, Organizing Women Victims to Help Inform Future Reparations Policies


During his State of the Nation address in March, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta formally acknowledged and apologized for the long-standing historical injustices suffered by Kenyans and announced the creation of a three year, 10 billion Kenyan shilling ($110m USD) restorative justice fund for victims of the post-election violence. The appropriate design and implementation of reparations policies are now more urgent and timely than ever before.

Recently, ICTJ held consultations with women victims—and civil society more broadly—to explain the recommendations on reparations included in the TJRC report and to hear what reparations they felt would best suit their needs.

“When designing reparations policies, it's critical to understand what's been done—even if ad-hoc—and what worked and what didn't, so that we don't reinvent the wheel every time,” said Amrita Kapur, Senior Associate in ICTJ’s Gender Justice Program. “It's important to learn what victims need right now.”

Lack of Government Action on Reparations Promises

The presidential and parliamentary elections held in December 2007 were considered to be the most fiercely fought in Kenyan history. Violence erupted in the streets almost immediately after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, leading supporters of his opponent, Raila Odinga, to allege that the vote was manipulated. Those allegations, coupled with a history of ethnic tension in the country, led to riots, targeted ethnic violence, and widespread rapes and assaults. Approximately 1100 people were killed in the post-election violence, and more were than 600,000 people were displaced from their homes.

“When designing reparations policies, it's critical to understand what's been done—even if ad-hoc—and what worked and what didn't, so that we don't reinvent the wheel every time.”
    Negotiations held by the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee in January 2008 between the two main political parties led by Kofi Annan’s mediation team resulted in the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (called the Waki Commission), as well as an Independent Review of the Elections Commission (IREC). The IREC’s mandate was to inquire into the election process and resultant violence and make remedial recommendations.

The Waki Commission made far reaching recommendations, many of which remain outstanding. Some outstanding recommendations include the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of the post-election violence, major reforms of the nation’s police force—including training officers on how to handle sexual violence cases—and the establishment of an office of rapporteur on sexual violence. The negotiations in February 2008 also led to the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

The TJRC was tasked with investigating the root causes of the 2007 post-election violence. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act also directed the Commission to investigate past gross human rights violations from independence in 1963 up until 2008; economic crimes; ethnic violence; the irregular and illegal acquisition of public land; and the economic marginalization of communities. The Commission submitted its final report to President Kenyatta in May 2013. A host of internal problems had prevented the TJRC from publishing the report before the March 2013 General Election, leaving Kenyan voters without the information they needed to take to the polls. The report provided a clear vision of reparations for and state obligations to the victims of human rights violations following the 2007 post-election violence. Although promising, the recommendations fell short of defining a comprehensive plan to implement the reparations recommendations—overlooking, for example, the means of funding such a program and adequately training its staff.

Although the TJRC’s report was completed almost two years ago, the Kenyan National Assembly has yet to reintroduce the report to the floor for debate or adoption. While recent apologies made by President Kenyatta and Chief Justice Willy Mutunga may signal a willingness by the State to be open to the discussion of redress for victims, in the meantime they have been left to find their own ways to survive and rebuild their lives without government assistance. Victims of sexual and gender-based violence are particularly vulnerable; an ICTJ study conducted in 2014 showed that despite the work done to document cases, the State has done little to address the harms suffered.    
“I have also come to learn that there are so many women who have suffered sexual violence, and that I’ve been one of them, I am not alone."

ICTJ has been working with victims and community groups since then to ensure that their needs are reflected in any subsequent program of restitution.

Consultative Forum Emphasizes Experience of Women Victims

In April, ICTJ organized consultative forums with women victims and civil society, including the National Victims and Survivors Network in Nairobi. The workshops provided information on the TJRC and possible reparations in Kenya and sought their insights on what effective reparations would look like.

Facilitated by ICTJ’s Kenya Program and our Reparative Justice and Gender Justice programs, the forums focused on reparations for victims of sexual violence—with a particular emphasis on violations inflicted on women and girls—and reparations for victims of violence on a broader scale.

“The post-electoral violence occurred several years ago,” explains Kapur. “Women have been forced to find their own ways to rebuild their lives and take care of their families without government acknowledgement or support. They are best placed to advise the government on what reparations they need now. Incorporating this knowledge is vital for the reparations fund’s effectiveness.”

The testimonies gathered in the workshops suggest that while victims were well aware of the truth commission, they did not know what the TJRC recommended for reparations.

"Incorporating the knowledge of women is vital for the reparations fund’s effectiveness."
    Many voiced concerns about the government’s ability to tackle the implementation of reparations. “I am skeptical about how this will unfold considering that during the post-election violence the real victims were not compensated. How will they get to know who the real victims are in order to know how to compensate them?” asked one woman.

Women victims also shared experiences of informal psychological support within their communities, which they have found more sustainable and helpful than typical periodic counselling. Cultivating spaces in which women can share their experiences safely allows them to build a community of support and rehabilitation. Reparative justice measures should strengthen and expand such positive initiatives.

One workshop participant and victim of sexual violence, emphasized the need for victims to pool their efforts to overcome the challenges they face with regard to the reparations process. “Reparations are key to [the] recovery of the victims from post-traumatic experiences,” she pointed out. “I have also come to learn that there are so many women who have suffered sexual violence, and that I’ve been one of them, I am not alone. We are many and we need to build up efforts toward overcoming the challenge.”

Another woman mentioned that while it is helpful to understand the power that women can have when they come together to demanding recognition of their rights, and the forum demonstrated how they could do that.

Many said that the information they received had not been previously available to them, even at the university level. Participants left feeling empowered and looked forward to further opportunities to continue the dialogue they had begun.

“The reparations program is just a first step, but it is a first step towards reviving Kenya,” commented one participant at the close of the forum.

PHOTO: (Davida3/Flickr)