Until We Value the Scales of Justice, Impunity Will Prevail

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By Irũngũ Houghton

High Court proceedings into the near fatal shooting of Felix Orinda a.k.a DJ Evolve by Embakasi East Member of Parliament Babu Owino catalysed national debate Thursday. As many netizens wonder how the victim could become a defence witness, a new study released this week offers the government and nation another opportunity to strengthen victim protection.

Felix Orinda was shot twice at 07.16am on 17 January 2020 while playing music at the B-Club in Kilimani. CCTV video footage still publicly available shows Babu Owino discharging a weapon and dragging the body of the DJ out of the club. Subsequently accused of disorderly conduct while in possession of a firearm and shooting with the intention to harm DJ Evolve, the MP has been out on bail for several years.

I am often reminded that, while important, the court of public opinion is not a real court. Ballistic analysis of the weapon and bullets, fingerprints, blood tests, CCTV footage, survivor and witness testimony and judicial wisdom matter more than the opinions of any columnist or citizen. Further, remorse or private compensation by any accused person should not stop a verdict of guilt. With more than 120,000 people having signed a petition calling for justice for DJ Evolve, the case will continue to be watched closely.

While unrelated directly to the Babu Owino case, a new study by The Global Survivors Fund, Grace Agenda, and The Civil Society Organisation Network offers new insights into the experiences of violence survivors and strategies that could end impunity. Researchers interviewed 95 survivors of violence from Kisumu, Busia, Siaya, Nairobi, Naivasha, Homabay, Nyamira, Kisii, Migori, Vihiga, Nakuru and Mombasa over the last fifteen years. Those interviewed are survivors to Kenya’s worst moment of post-colonial violence. They are among the 660,000 displaced and thousands assaulted and raped during the Post Election Violence of 2007-2008. A further 1,400 people were also killed in those fateful months.

Probably one of the most important findings of the Justice Philip Waki led Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence at the time was that citizens and state officers required an enabling legal and political environment to rape, assault and kill each other. State or elite capture of the criminal justice system and a historical culture of impunity is central to violence.

Less understood at the time of the Commission’s findings is that sexual or physical violence has long-term trauma for survivors, their families, and communities. Told now in the Opportunities for Reparations for Survivors of Conflict Related Sexual Violence Kenya Study, the wounds of physical, psychological, and socio-economic can scar survivors, their children, and communities for life.

Survivors have the right to protection, rehabilitation, and reparations to address injuries suffered and restore their dignity in society. This can include financially compensating or restoring their identity, health and wellbeing, loss of livelihoods or property. Public state apologies and memorialisation projects as we have seen in the case of slavery in the United States of America or colonisation in the case of the United Kingdom also matter. Most important perhaps, are taking steps towards guaranteeing the violations will not be repeated for another generation.

The study makes several practical recommendations. They include publishing the full Truth Justice and Reconciliation Report with volumes 2A and 2C and subjecting the report to parliamentary debate, symbolic memorialisation programming, implementing the Restorative Justice Fund dusting away in the Attorney General’s Chambers and introducing comprehensive measures for psychosocial and financial support to survivors and survivor solidarity networks.

Adequately funding the Witness Protection Agency may also be critical. The Judiciary can fast track the hearing and determination of Civil Appeal Case No. E 645 of 2021 and the crimes against humanity 2017 case of Samantha Pendo vs twelve police officers to affirm the state’s obligation to effectively prevent and respond to state and civil violence.

Until we value the scales of justice more than the shilling, witnesses are protected, survivors will become defence witnesses, impunity will prevail and none of us are safe.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]