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October 20, 2014

Almost seven years on, where is the justice for Kenya's victims of post-election violence?

By James Mwangi, Governance and Human Rights Officer in Kenya, and Julian Waagensen, Governance and Human Rights Policy Officer 
 
9 October 2014: Huge crowds shout themselves hoarse along the major streets of Nairobi as the presidential motorcade slithers from the airport to the city centre.
 
The President, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his Deputy, William Rutu, are in crisp shirts, riding in an open roof state limousine. These two men share more than smart dressing and state power, however. They are both suspects in the International Criminal Court (ICC), facing a variety of charges.
 
The crowds had gathered to welcome the country’s President back from the Hague, where he had become the first serving Head of State to appear before the ICC.
 
For the masses here and millions of other Kenyans, the period between December 2007 and February 2008 will forever be etched in their memory. Kenya experienced ethnic violence sparked by the hotly-contested presidential election, which saw opposition leader Raila Odinga and his supporters reject the victory of incumbent Mwai Kibaki, claiming widespread election rigging.
 
Peaceful protests gave way to horrific, widespread and systematic violence, which included the burning down of houses, machete attacks, beatings, rapes and police shootings. Approximately 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 people were displaced into temporary camps. 
 
The ICC intervened and indicted six Kenyans, including Kenyatta, who had been a close ally of Kibaki. There was a general feeling that the victims of the violence would get some closure.
 
The ICC cases became a campaign issue in the 2013 election. The protagonists across the political divide put all effort to derive political capital from it. Kenyatta ultimately proved successful and was elected President, following in the footsteps of his father, Jomo, who led the country following its independence from Britain.
 
At the ICC, the defence and the prosecution were busy exchanging legal arguments. Uhuru Kenyatta’s case has already been postponed five times. On 8th October, the prosecution was asking for an indefinite postponement on account of the Kenyan government’s non-cooperation. Kenyatta’s lawyers want the case dismissed due to lack of evidence. The opposition meanwhile believes the Kenyan government is sabotaging the case now that the suspects are in power.
 
kibera slums kenya
The Kibera slum in Nairobi was one of the worst affected by violence following the disputed election in December 2007. Photo: Eoghan Rice
 
As the political posturing and the academic debate over the finer points of international law continue, it is all too easy to forget the surviving victims of the violence, who are no closer to having the full truth about what happened and who was responsible. They have seen no justice for the crimes committed, and have seen no or little reparation (a term that includes both compensation and rehabilitation) for the crimes committed against them.
 
It is almost seven years since the end of the post-election violence. As it fades ever further into history, it is imperative to ensure that victims are not forgotten and that they do not continue to suffer the effects of the violence because not enough is done to ensure their right to truth, justice and reparation.
 
The defence, the suspects, the lawyers, the lobbyists and the political opposition continue to make all the arguments. 
 
In the meantime, who is mourning the dead and the rape victims?
 
Who will tell the story of the orphaned?  
 
 
Victims of Kenya’s post-election violence recall their experiences:
 
Tom Wainaina
 
I left home on 30th December 2007 for a toy market but before I got there I noticed people were gathering in groups and decided to turn around and go back home.
 
On reaching Mashimoni (a slum in Nairobi), I met a group of men and boys. One of them shouted “here is another one”. They pounced on me and in the process tore off my shirt. They started to beat me up, they tied up my hands and started asking for paraffin so that they burn me as they wanted to finish me completely.
 
Lucky, another group came to my rescue. They threw me into the sewage drainage to put out the fire and went to look for means to take me to hospital. They found a driver who agreed to come and I woke up to find myself in the ICU at Kenyatta National Hospital.
 
‘Mama Anna’
 
My neighbor came running telling us there was a group of youths approaching our plot and they were wielding machetes. We all rushed and locked ourselves in [but] they scaled the wall and entered. I hid under the bed. I could hear someone telling others the tribes of the occupants of the houses. They forcibly entered the house. They saw me under the bed and pulled me out.
 
I asked them what they were doing [and] they told me they were doing the work Kibaki asked them to do. They told me if I dared to scream they would kill me. They violated me as others held me, I then lost consciousness and I later got up and found I was stark naked.
 
I know my violators as they were my neighbours.  They did not turn off my phone after stealing it and when my children called they told them to go and collect my body at the mortuary.
 
Officers from the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) came. I gave them the names of the perpetrators. I even showed them where the perpetrators live. They were never arrested. 
 
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October 14, 2014

Responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa

The Ebola crisis continues to worsen, with over 4,000 people having died from the virus in West Africa. 
 
Trócaire is working in Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries affected by the crisis. We are responding to the crisis through our partnership with local Caritas and missionary organisations. 
 
In Liberia we are supporting a hospital operated by the Franciscans. This response includes funding hand-washing stations and training health workers responding to the crisis. 
 
Our response in Sierra Leone has focused on grassroots community awareness raising in order to overcome myths and fears. This has included producing written materials, training community leaders and door-to-door awareness campaigns to raise awareness of how Ebola can be transmitted, how risk of transmission can be reduced, and how to respond to suspected cases.  This work has focused on the two districts of Sierra Leone (Kailahun and Kenema) where the outbreak originated. 
 
In addition to the health danger posed by the virus, this crisis will also cause problems for food availability in affected countries. Restrictions on movement have meant that many people have been unable to plant crops. 
 
Trócaire is building a longer-term response to include food and agricultural support for communities affected by disruption to planting. 
 
Our response to the Ebola crisis is being funded through regular donations. You can support our work in response to the Ebola crisis here
 
Caritas Trocaire Ebola response
Top: In Sierra Leone, Caritas Freetown is teaching people how to prevent the spread of Ebola. Photo: Caritas Internationalis
Bottom: In Guinea, Caritas is distributing hygiene materials and teaching people about Ebola prevention. Photo: OCPH/Caritas Guinea
 
October 09, 2014

Are you ready to act on climate change?

Are you 16-18 years old? Do you want to learn more about the causes of climate change and experience its effects first hand? 
 
Then sign up for our ‘Climate Change Challenge Weekend’ taking place at the University of Maynooth on 14-16 November 2014. This weekend is for young people who are concerned about the effect that our changing climate is having on people and communities around the world, and want to find out how to get involved in tackling climate injustice in the developing countries.
 
We have four main aims for the weekend:
  1. To increase your knowledge of climate change;
  2. To help you understand why climate change is an urgent social justice issue, what we call ‘climate justice’;
  3. To assist you in making connections with experienced activists and hear stories from around the world;
  4. To give you the knowledge and skills to become a climate justice activist.
 
Throughout the weekend you will examine the causes, effects and possible ways to mitigate climate change through a variety of activities, for example: activist workshops; Trócaire staff presentations; special guest speaker; a disaster simulation exercise; drama; documentary viewing. 
 
If you are aged between 16 and 18 years old (on the 14 November), then contact mboyce@trocaire.ie for further information and an application form. The cost for the weekend is £20/€25. If this amount is not feasible for you, please do not hesitate to contact Trócaire in confidence.
 
The closing date for applications is 17 October 2014.
 
We plan to create an atmosphere built around mutual respect and understanding between you as participants, Trócaire staff and volunteers, and other agencies who join us at different times during the Climate Change Challenge. We will use a ‘Buddy System’ for the weekend, which means you will be in groups of three peers with a team leader to guide you through the different activities. Attendance is obligatory for all activities. We will support you to make choices and direct your own learning experience. All participants must remain on Maynooth University campus at all times.
 
Your planet needs you! Will you act? 
 
climate change challenge flyer
 
 
 

September 30, 2014

Life in Yanoun, in the occupied West Bank

by Emmet Sheerin, Campaigns Team
 
The devastation caused by Israel’s latest military offensive in Gaza has rightly generated significant public outcry and attention. However, just 60 kilometres away, Palestinian communities are also suffering under Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. Emmet Sheerin writes about the situation in a Palestinian village in the West Bank called Yanoun. 
 
In 2012 I lived and worked in the small Palestinian village of Yanoun, in the north of the West Bank. Like many other Palestinian villages, Yanoun has lost vast amounts of its land and natural resources to the Israeli military and Israeli settlements. These settlements are illegal under international law, yet despite this, there are currently over 100 settlements in the West Bank with a combined population of well over 500,000 Israeli settlers. 
 
I was working in Yanoun with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) , one of Trócaire’s partner organisations.
 
EAPPI brings people to the West Bank to work in teams of human rights observers.  Our job in Yanoun was to document and report various human rights abuses against Palestinians stemming from Israel’s military occupation. On a day-to-day basis this might include the demolition of a Palestinian home or the violent dispersal of a peaceful Palestinian demonstration by the Israeli military. It could also be the arrest of a Palestinian child in the middle of the night, suspected of throwing a rock at an armoured military vehicle.
 
However, apart from responding to these types of incidents, there was another, and ultimately more pressing reason for our presence in Yanoun. Such is the level of violence posed by Israeli settlers living nearby, that without the constant and continual presence of international observers in the village, the local Palestinians would simply flee their homes. As Rashed, the village leader, explained to me, “if the internationals leave the village in the morning, we will leave in the afternoon”. 
 
WATCH: 'This is my land', a short film about life in Yanoun
 
There is good reason for Rashed and the other villagers to fear. In 2002 after a sustained campaign of violence and intimidation by Israeli settlers, almost the entire village was evacuated. Eventually the villagers returned to Yanoun, but only with the support of international and Israeli peace activists. Since then there have been teams of international observers living in Yanoun, providing a nonviolent protective presence in the village. 
 
For Israeli settlers, life in the West Bank is entirely different. Despite being illegal under international law, Israeli settlements expand and thrive off land and resources taken from Palestinian communities. In the Jordan Valley (close to Yanoun) Israeli settlers have used these resources to develop large scale agricultural operations, exporting produce abroad, including to the EU. Ultimately the production and trade of this produce is strongly linked to the dispossession of Palestinian communities, and serious breaches of international law. 
 
Here in Ireland it could be easy to think that we have no bearing on the situation in Palestine. Yanoun and other vulnerable villages in the West Bank are far away, and the crisis in Gaza is immense. The reality is though that the Irish Government can and should play a significant role in helping to bring about a just and lasting peace. This means seeking a long-term political solution based on an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
 
Furthermore, recognising the illegality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the human rights violations resulting from their continued expansion, our government can publicly support the introduction of an EU-wide trade ban on settlement produce and demonstrate leadership by implementing an individual member state ban here in Ireland.
 
At the end of the day, however, the Irish Government is unlikely to take such action in the absence of pressure from the Irish public. It is essential therefore that Irish citizens continue to demand an adequate and concrete response from the Government. For the villagers of Yanoun and other communities across the West Bank, as well as the besieged population in Gaza, our solidarity, and our actions can have a massive impact on their lives.
 
 
 

September 24, 2014

Climate change is no longer a stand-alone issue, it is the entire context in which the world exists

by Eithne McNulty, Trócaire's Director in Northern Ireland

Humans, along with every other species, depend totally on the proper functioning of the planet for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. A small change to nature’s system can have the effect of knocking the entire basis of life on earth out of synch. 

Tragically, we are seeing one such change. It is called climate change and it cannot be described as small.

Fact: the earth’s average temperature is higher today than it was before mass industrialisation. Fact: each of the last three decades have been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850.

The scientific evidence is unequivocal: not only is our climate changing, it is changing as a direct result of carbon emissions from human activity. If emissions continue as they are, experts warn that by 2100 average global temperatures will be between 3.7-4.8°C higher than today.

Such a rise would have a profound impact on sea levels, rainfall patterns and the frequency of extreme weather events. These, in turn, would similarly have a profound impact on our ability to live. Crop yields across much of Africa are predicted to fall, including by up to 50 per cent by 2020 in some countries, as a direct consequence of climate change. Even optimistic predictions forecast that there could be an additional 86 million malnourished children in the world by 2050.

We do not have to look to the future to see the devastation of climate change, of course. Today, one in twelve people across the world is at risk of hunger. Through my work with Trócaire I have seen how drought, storms and floods are plunging people already on the edge into further poverty.

The reality is simple: climate change is no longer a stand-alone issue, it is the entire context in which the world exists.

Women walk to the market close to Chuka in the Tharaka district of central Kenya

Women walk to the market in an area seriously affected by climate change impacts in the Tharaka district of central Kenya. (Photo: Eoghan Rice)

 

When world leaders met in New York yesterday (Sept 23rd) at the UN Climate Summit, the urgency for genuine action has never been greater. The decisions we take this week and over the coming years will have huge implications on a wide range of issues, from food production to mass migration, for decades to come.

Despite dire predictions from experts who warn that we are running out of time to avoid a future of mass displacement and growing hunger, political leaders have until now chosen to ignore long-term issues in favour of short-term gains.

Collectively, the world has chosen to ignore a catastrophe that is heading straight towards us.

We have recently seen the impact of conflict in many countries around the world – Syria, Iraq and others. These conflicts have been driven by factors that are not linked to the changing environment. However, the UN has warned that the depletion of renewable natural resources, combined with environmental degradation and climate change, poses fundamental threats to human security. Disputes and grievances over natural resources can be a major contributing factor to violent conflict when they overlap with high levels of inequality, poverty, injustice and poor governance.

One of the greatest injustices in today’s world is that those who have done least to contribute to the planet’s changing climate are the very people who are suffering most from its effects.

The average person in Northern Ireland is responsible for emitting 8.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – 83 times the amount of the average Ethiopian. All industrialised countries need to cut carbon emissions as a matter of urgency.

We need changes to our economy and government policies. Each of us has a role to play, be it in our homes, our schools or our businesses.

Justine Greening, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, attended the UN Summit on Climate Change. They should be willing to seize the opportunity to become climate champions and push political decision-makers and the international community to agree fair and binding global targets to reduce emissions and support developing countries dealing with climate change. Closer to home, paramount to effecting change will be whether or not the Assembly has the courage to introduce a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act   with a legally binding regional target to reduce carbon emissions from 1990 levels by at least 40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

This New York meeting will set the tone for the work that needs to be achieved in the coming months in advance of the new global climate deal which is expected to be agreed at talks in Paris next year. In the run up to this Summit people have taken to the streets in New York, in Belfast, in Dublin and around the world in the biggest ever mobilisation on climate change, and they are calling for responsible leadership: it is now up to our leaders to step up to the plate.

We need to respond to climate change before it’s too late. If we do not then what kind of legacy will we be leaving future generations?

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