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Rape in Kenya Used as Weapon in Political Unrest


A United Nations report released February 1 shows rape is being used as a weapon in Kenya as the country is roiled in ethnic violence since the December elections. The survey of rape victims was conducted in the Nairobi Women's Hospital between December 27 and January 20 and describes the cases of 152 women, children and men who were sexually assaulted during the violence that broke out after Kenya's disputed presidential election at the end of December. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Included in the 152 cases surveyed are 12 men and 63 children below 18 years of age. The rest are adult females. The report says the youngest survivor is a one-year-old child and the oldest a 58-year-old woman.

The report describes horrific cases of sexual abuse, gang rape, extreme physical brutality and severe psychological trauma.

U.N. Humanitarian spokeswoman, Elizabeth Byrs, says sexual violence is a symptom of the collapse of the social order in Kenya brought about by post election conflict. But she says it is also being used by parties to the conflict.

"It also is being used as a tool to terrorize families and individuals and precipitate their expulsion from their communities in which they live," she said. "Whatever the motivation, the perpetrators are exploiting the conflict in order to commit sexual violence with impunity. In too many settings, survivors have no access to even the most minimal health and psychological support, leaving them vulnerable to widespread trauma and potential negative health outcome, including HIV/AIDS."

Many survivors say they were reluctant to report the sexual attacks against them, because they had no confidence in the ability of the police to protect them.

The U.N. report says cases of sexual assault are grossly underestimated and the real number of rape victims is believed to be much higher than the officially reported figures.

The U.N. Children's Fund reports that women in camps for displaced people say rape and sexual abuse are happening on a large scale.

UNICEF spokeswoman, Veronique Taveau, says women and children who have been raped are threatened with reprisal if they talk of their experience.

"One of our staff was in a camp when a group of women came to her and said listen this is happening on a nightly basis," she noted. "And, when she was told that, then a group of men came and said. 'Okay listen, stop it because if you keep saying that, if you keep giving testimonies to international organizations, then there will be retaliation against you and against your children.' We can imagine that those women are living in fear. And, it is very, very difficult for them to let us know what is going on exactly."

United Nations agencies say they cannot stop the violence. They say the Kenyan government must be responsible for protecting its citizens. They note that the government is not living up to its task.

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