With reports of increasing sexual assaults against women displaced by Kenya’s post-election violence, a senior United Nations official today called on the global community to recognize such crimes as an affront to basic human rights.
“Once again, women and girls are not just caught in the crossfire. They are on the battlefield,” said Kemal Dervis, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
“Time and time again we have seen women and girls targeted for rape and sexual abuse during periods of conflict. It is time for the global community to recognize this problem for what it is – an affront to basic human rights and human dignity,” he added.
UNDP points out that there has been a spike in the number of rape cases reported by Kenyan health facilities since the start of the crisis, which began after Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner over opposition leader Raila Odinga in December elections.
The ensuing violence, which has claimed some 600 lives and caused over 250,000 people to flee their homes, has put women and girls at great risk of sexual assault. Hospitals and health organizations in Kenya are pressed to treat the rising number of rape victims, UNDP notes.
In addition, reports from Nairobi indicate that some hospitals saw the number of rape cases double within days after violence erupted. Medical personnel say that for each of the new cases they are treating, there are many more victims who fail to seek help – either because of security reasons or the fear of stigmatization.
UN agencies in Kenya are working together to ensure that women and girls receive the best protection possible.
Along with the Kenya Red Cross and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the agencies are continuing to aid those affected by the ongoing crisis.
For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is finalizing plans to transfer more than 300 refugees – mainly from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi – who are fleeing the violence in Nairobi to camps.
The refugees had joined some 1,200 internally displaced persons (IDPs) taking shelter at Jamhuri Park, a fairground in Nairobi. Many of them told UNHCR that they had been threatened in the places where they lived, while some said that their homes had been burned.
In neighbouring Uganda, UNHCR is to start moving 6,000 Kenyan refugees tomorrow from three border locations – Malaba, Busia and Lwakhakha – to Mulanda transit centre some 35 kilometres inland. According to the local authorities, there are more than 6,500 Kenyan refugees in Uganda, most of them staying with the local population.
Meanwhile, UN aid officials say that Kenyans are now fleeing in greater numbers toward Tanzania, with some 500 people crossing over in recent days.