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Government of Kenya Must Avoid Repeat of History and Prevent Electoral Violence: PHR

Ahead of Kenya’s general election on August 9, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) warns of potential election-related violence, including sexual violence, and calls on the Government of Kenya to proactively enact policies and plans to both prevent and respond to any violence perpetrated around the upcoming vote.  

At least since the 1990s, elections in Kenya have been marred by political violence and unrest. Following the contested 2007 vote, approximately 1,100 people were killed by state security forces, gangs, and individuals. At least 900 people are estimated to have survived sexual and gender-based violence during the post-election catastrophe, though many more instances likely went unreported. 

“Elections are no excuse for violence. As we head to the polls this August, we cannot allow history to repeat itself,” said Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge, Kenya head of office at PHR. “The Government of Kenya must act with urgency now to avert election-related sexual violence. If violence is perpetrated during this election season, the Government must respond appropriately, namely by supporting survivors to access care, holding perpetrators fully accountable, and providing redress.” 

“The Government of Kenya has largely failed to heed the warnings and recommendations from civil society experts on how to ensure elections run safely,” said Nyamu-Mathenge, who authored a recent op-ed in The Nation, one of Kenya’s leading news outlets, calling on the Government of Kenya to prevent and respond to electoral violence. “It has not done nearly enough to safeguard the health, wellbeing, and human rights of Kenyans as they head to the polls. Officials must act now to implement election safety mechanisms and avert the potential for bloodshed. The clock is ticking.” 

“Kenyans must be free to exercise their fundamental rights at the ballot box without the looming specter of sexual violence,” said Payal Shah, director of the program on sexual violence in conflict zones at PHR. “Survivors of post-election sexual violence from 2007 and 2017 have still not received justice. Given the history of sexual violence around the elections, the Government is on notice about the risk of violence and its obligation to prevent and investigate such violations. The Government of Kenya must act to ensure that this year does not repeat the patterns of the past and to ensure that even more women, girls, men, and boys are not subjected to sexual violence.”  

“To signal that it will not tolerate sexual violence this election, the Government of Kenya should make clear steps to recognize the courageous survivors of past election-related violence, who have led a decades-long quest for justice and redress in the courts and beyond,” said Shah. 

To prevent and respond to election-related sexual violence, PHR is calling on the Government of Kenya and candidates running for elected office to: 

  • Immediately condemn election-related violence in all forms, including sexual violence, and publicly direct supporters to practice peace and non-violence; 
  • Prioritize and implement contingency measures, such as undertaking simulations before elections and disseminating standard operating procedures that address election-related sexual violence; 
  • Widely publicize helplines and resources available to survivors; 
  • Strengthen coordination between the array of actors, including security forces, first responders, humanitarians, and others;   
  • Provide the trained health professionals with necessary tools like post-rape care forms and psycho-social resources; 
  • Gather evidence of sexual violence in a trauma-informed, survivor-centered way; 
  • If post-election sexual violence is perpetrated, the Government of Kenya should make available emergency health care, including medical forensic services, to survivors; 
  • Keep survivors safe, protect their identities in legal proceedings, and provide them with the necessary legal assistance to report, regardless of the status or affiliation of the perpetrator; 
  • Ensure the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions expedites investigations to ensure perpetrators of election-related sexual violence are held to account; 
  • Deliver justice, including compensation, to survivors of post-election sexual violence from previous elections, including in the pending appeal at the High Court of Nairobi in Constitutional Petition No. 122 of 2013. 

“Breaking Cycles of Violence: Gaps in Prevention of and Response to Electoral-Related Sexual Violence in Kenya,” a 2019 report by UN Women, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and PHR, offered many recommendations to the Government of Kenya on how to prevent and respond to election-related sexual violence, most of which have still not been implemented.   

Kenya’s upcoming general election on August 9 is anticipated to be one of the most competitive in the country’s history. Deputy President William Ruto is running for president against Raila Odinga, Leader of the Opposition. In addition to the top of the ticket, Kenyans will vote for 290 members of parliaments, 47 governors, 47 senators, 47 women representatives, and 1,450 members of county assemblies across 82 political parties.   

“Elections in Kenya have become synonymous with chaos and sexual violence, perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. We must seize the opportunity to break with the past, deliver justice for past survivors, and safeguard human rights around the election,” said Nyamu-Mathenge.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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