Kenya: Truth, Justice and Reconciliation  

Read the TJRC Summary report co-published by ACORD.

"We talk about violence happening out there forgetting that these things are happening to ourselves", this was a statement made by a key speaker from the Gender Violence and Recovery Centre (GVRC) during a thematic hearing on women issues held in Nairobi.

Kenya's Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) on 8th February held the Nairobi hearing focusing on women issues. More than 300 participants including representatives from Government departments, civil society organisations (CSOs), medical professions, security and law enforcement and others were present to share knowledge, testimonies and best practices on sexual and gender based violence.

ACORD was among a number of other organisations that were given opportunity to share with the commissioners on issues of reparations from its wealth of expertise and resources. ACORD's position in regard to dealing with perpetrators of sexual violence includes a strong advocacy campaign to stop impunity for these crimes and an appeal to Governments to establish a national reparations commission for compensation, rehabilitation and to guarantee non-repetition of violence.

Commissioners of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) keenly listen to testimonies.

Taking Action to Stop Violence

For meaningful healing to occur, ACORD proposed that the Kenya Head of State establishes a national reparations commission by an act of Parliament. There is also a need to domesticate international instruments including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW) and protocols by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). Legal reform and establishment of a national trust fund in Kenya are also other recommendations by ACORD aimed at reversing the propagation of violence targeting mostly women and girls.

According to the GVRC, a programme that protects vulnerable witnesses must be put in place urgently. Furthermore, the Government should strengthen referral facilities, impose zero charge for P3 form and other reporting tools that are in use, and ensure that gender-based violence management is taught at all levels of education.

The TJRC was established by an Act of Parliament (Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission Act no. 6 of 2008) to investigate the gross human rights violations and other historical injustices in Kenya as happened between 12 December 1963 and 28 February 2008. The Commission has recorded thousands of statements from across the country from victims of past injustices.

Thematic hearings are focus group sessions whereby selected speakers are invited by the Commission to share concerns with the panel and respond to questions. Commissioners during the February 8 hearing included Judge Gertrude Chawatama, Tegla Namachanja, Margaret Shava and Ambassador Berhanu Dinka.

Women's Rights in Perspective

ACORD has published a research report: "Pursuing Justice for Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Kenya" in 2010. The previous year, another report "Kenya - An Audit of Legal Practice on Sexual Violence" appeared. ACORD has also brought the same to the attention of an international audience, such as the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York, in February 2010 and to the Member States of the ICGLR. In March 2012, ACORD will again promote the importance of reparations for women's livelihoods in New York.

As noted by Commissioner Margaret Shava, most violence happens behind closed doors making it harder for survivors to receive support. This is due to stigma, social barriers at community level and hidden fears that silence both the victim and any witnesses. Due to this tragic condition, sexual crimes continue to take unimaginable forms including rape of minors as young as one or two months. During the post-election violence in Kenya, 83% of cases brought to the attention of the recovery centre involved survivors of sexual violence.

But violence against women continues to take place even in times of non-conflict. According to the representative from the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA), perceptions about women being inferior within the home are hampering efforts to stem the violence meted out on women since the women themselves have normalised their predicament as a result of guilt imposed as a result of perceptions of inferiority. Fearing consequences from reporting violence, most women absolve perpetrators from crimes especially if these people are seen as being powerful or influential.

Dr. Nyokabi Kamau, a speaker at the hearing emphasised that: "There is need to change mindsets within our societies about the role and position of women. We must question ideas that encourage women's victimization, and instead encourage a positive gender identity that promotes equal rights for all."

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