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Kenyans wait for justice

Isabella Bauer / aelJanuary 6, 2017

The trial of Kenyan President Kenyatta at the World Criminal Court is threatening to collapse due to lack of evidence. Survivors of the 2007 post-election violence fear they will be denied justice.

These pictures in Kibera explain how to report a crime to the policeImage: DW/I. Bauer

The narrow streets of Kibera are full of huts made of wood or corrugated iron. This is Nairobi's largest slum and home to people who make a living as craftsmen, traders or snack vendors as well as hundreds of thousands of poor and jobless people. No one here can afford a lawyer. Those who need legal aid go to human rights organizations such as the"“Kibera Community Justice Center." Most of the legal advisors work on a voluntary basis. They have their hands full because many slum dwellers are still suffering from the 2007 post-election riots, when members of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribe attacked each other, armed with knives, machetes and iron bars. Members of the police and military also took part in the violence which killed more than 1,000 people and displaced thousands.

That is why Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta was summoned to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. He is said to have instigated the violence and committed crimes against humanity. Kenyatta's co-accused is his deputy William Ruto. The start of the trial has been deferred several times; important witnesses have gone silent, there is a lack of evidence. The prosecution's case threatens to collapse.

Victims demand truth

Stanislaus Alusiola is a legal advisor in Kibera
Stanislaus Alusiola, a legal advisor in Kibera, has spoken to many survivors of the post-election violenceImage: DW/I. Bauer

Legal advisor Stanislaus Alusiola has recorded countless accounts by survivors. He remembers the story of a woman whose home was attacked by men in uniform and who lost her whole family. "They killed her husband. They raped the daughter in her presence, they raped her in her daughter's presence, and then they left with the daughter," said Alusiola. The daughter is still missing and the local police would not give the mother any information on her daughter's whereabouts or even say whether they are following up the case. Today the widow, who through the rape contracted the HIV virus, has never received any help and lacks even the most basic necessities. Countless survivors have similar stories to tell. They call for the perpetrators of the crimes to be prosecuted, they demand justice and above all reparations which can at least help them financially.

Honest investigation?

Survivors had pinned their hopes on the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) which was launched by the Kenyan government in 2008. The aim was to document the causes and effects of ethnic injustices as well as serious human rights violations. A new history of the country was to be written on which all Kenyans could agree.

A view of Kibera slum in Nairobi
Hundred of thousands of people living in the Kibera slum are still waiting for justiceImage: DW/I. Bauer

Nevertheless, there is strong criticism of how the Commission conducts its work. Some areas such as Kibera, where there have been massive human rights violations, have so far been ignored by the Commission. Also, for political reasons, not all members of the Commission have signed all its findings. Some pages of the report, which contained serious accusations against the family of President Kenyatta, were later removed. This has been publicly discussed but no serious steps have so far been taken.

Hopes of justice are diminishing

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanityImage: picture-alliance/AA

Human rights organizations and victims' associations,therefore, are placing their hopes more in the lawsuit against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto in The Hague. This should demonstrate that justice is not a luxury that can be traded depending on the political situation. But with the looming failure of the indictment against the president, the hopes of at least partial justice have diminished greatly. "If the process fails, that will send a really strong message: You can get away with impunity, if you are very smart," said Aimee Ongeso, who works with the Kituo cha Sheria human rights organization in Nairobi. "People will do anything and everything because impunity starts from the top."

Many citizens fear that the Kenyan legal system as a whole will be undermined if those responsible for the 2007 post-election violence remain unpunished. They fear that the embittered survivors could pass on their traumas to the next generation. And they are afraid of further violence that might flare up in the years to come.