WITNESS: THE STATE MUST PROTECT ITS CITIZENS, EVEN DURING CONFLICT

Rashida Manjoo, a former United Nations special rapporteur, told the Kenyan High Court the State had an obligation to protect the rights of its citizens even during a conflict.

Manjoo made her observation while testifying on May 23 in a case brought by survivors of sexual and gender-based violence committed during the conflict that erupted after the December 2007 election. The case resumed after more than a month’s break. The last hearing was held on April 15 but it was closed to the public. The hearing before that, on April 14, was open to the public and a summary of it can be read here.

In the hearing of May 23, Manjoo was called to testify as an expert witness by the petitioners. She was called as an expert witness because for six years Manjoo served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences.

A UN special rapporteur is someone who reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council but works independent of governments or the United Nations. A special rapporteur’s mandate may be country-specific or issue-specific.

The petition that was the subject of the May 23 hearing was filed by eight victims of sexual and gender-based violence and three non-governmental organizations in February 2013. They are asking the court to find the government failed to prevent the violence that shook Kenya after the December 2007 presidential election. The petitioners are also asking the court to find the government failed to protect the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Manjoo, who served as UN Special Rapporteur between August 2009 and July 2015, said women “are disproportionately impacted” by violence in society. She said this is because society is male-dominated.

“In my opinion, globally, patriarchy is alive and well in every country in the world,” Manjoo said.

She said there are various factors that contribute to violence against women. She explained one of them is the stereotyping of women’s roles in society, which influences how women are viewed generally in a society and how they are treated.

She said violence in the home is one of the biggest manifestations of violence against women.

“The violence in [a] conflict situation is a result of the violence that women are subjugated to in their homes,” Manjoo told the court.

She said other ways violence against women is manifested is when the state perpetrates violence against them. She said violence against women can become transnational when women become victims of human trafficking.

Manjoo explained that her knowledge on the issue came from the more than 20 years work of the different people who have served as UN Special Rapporteurs on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences.

She said that one of the shortcomings in eliminating violence against women is the lack of laws and policies aimed at doing that. However, Manjoo also observed having such laws or policies is not enough.

“But there is also a huge shortcoming in the implementation of policies and laws,” Manjoo said.

Willis Otieno, the lawyer for the petitioners, asked Manjoo whether the State can do anything if victims of violence do not report any violations.

Manjoo said it was the State’s role to create a system that is responsive to any reports of violence and build confidence of victims to report any violations.

“You then open the door to other people that the State will respond to complaints…so I do not have to fear taking any cases [to the authorities],” Manjoo said.

(Read more at International Justice Monitor )

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