The United Nations Security Council adopted the UN Resolution 1820 in 19 June 2008 at a ministerial-level meeting on “women, peace, and security”. The Resolution is important because it plays a vital role in the protection of civilians, especially women and girls, from exploitation as tools of war using sexual violence. By adopting the resolution, it was a first move for the UN to associate directly the issue of sexual violence as a tool for war with issues affecting women, peace, and security.
The UN Resolution 1820 identified that women and girls are specific targets of sexual violence as “A tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse, and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” It also took note that that sexual violence carried out in this way may persist in in some instances even after the hostilities have ended.
Sexual violence against women in the 2007/08 elections
Three elections in Kenya have resulted in violence that has threatened the safety of women and girls. The violence happened after the general elections in 1992, 1997 and 2007. The 2007 elections were the worst and affected women and girls the most. The resulting violence resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 people and the displacement of 650,000 others. Apart from displacement and physical assault, sexual violence also became a tool of war used against women.
Women were a target of sexual violence through rape after the 2007/08 disputed elections. On one hand, take the example of Adhiambo who was brutally gang-raped by about 10 men, who singled her out because of her ethnicity. She was 17 at the time and she lived in one of Nairobi’s poorest neighborhoods and would visit relatives in the neighborhood during school holidays. On the other hand, take Njeri who says five men beat her, pulled her legs apart, and raped her. She suffered fistula and still experiences back pain and has a leg injury.
According to The Guardian, officials said at least 900 cases of sexual violence occurred during the 2007/08 Post-Election Violence (PEV). However, campaigners disputed this figure as an underestimate. The police also faced accusations of sexual violence against women with a woman named Achieng recalling 10 members of the anti-riot General Service Unit raping her.
UN Resolution 1820 prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of women
With the coming elections in 8th August 2017, international observers and human rights actors have warned of the risk of election violence. They have urged authorities to ensure that Kenyans vote in safety and security to prevent the rise in politically motivated rape that occurred after the 2007 elections. The UN Resolution 1820 urges governments to “take appropriate measures to protect civilians, including women and girls, from all forms of sexual violence, which could include, inter alia:
- enforcing appropriate military disciplinary measures and upholding the principle of command responsibility;
- training troops on the categorical prohibition of all forms of sexual violence against civilians;
- debunking myths that fuel sexual violence;
- vetting armed and security forces to take into account past actions of rape and other forms of sexual violence; and
- evacuation of women and children under imminent threat of sexual violence to safety.”
The elections should prioritize the safety and wellbeing of women. In the past, the government has shown less commitment to address the issue of sexual violence against women and girls during elections. As of last year, women were still seeking reparations and justice after the widespread sexual violence that followed the disputed elections in 2007/08.
In 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta made public the establishment of KSh10 billion fund for “restorative justice.” However, this money has mainly gone to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and left out those who suffered sexual violence.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) said that it would not prosecute sexual crimes committed during the 2007/08 PEV due to “lack of evidence.”
However, four civil society organizations and eight sexual violence survivors are challenging the government’s lack of response to sexual offences committed during the 2007/2008 election violence at the High Court. The petitioners argue that the authorities failed to protect civilians during the post-election violence. In addition, they contend that the authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute attackers since then and provide compensation to the victims.
Preventing sexual violence in coming elections
The coming elections should be a focus for the government to take serious consideration about the safety of women. It should adopt measures to prevent sexual violence, in particular–
- gang rape;
- forced pregnancy;
- deliberate transmission of HIV, or any other life threatening sexually transmitted disease;
- sexual assault; and
- other indecent acts.
The UN Resolution 1820 reinforces the UN Resolution 1325. The latter “reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”