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U of C prof collaborates with human rights project in Kenya

Lawyers tackle sexual assault cases in Kenya

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Imagine you’re a 10-year-old girl living in rural Kenya. You are sexually assaulted and you report the incident to the police. Chances are, your report will not be taken seriously. Not because laws aren’t there to protect you. The law isn’t being enforced.

One group decided to change this. In May 2013, a human rights network called Equality Effect (E2) won a constitutional challenge against the Kenyan government and police for failing to enforce their own laws.

E2 pushes countries to enforce already-existing human rights laws, especially those protecting young women and girls. E2’s team includes University of Calgary law professor Jennifer Koshan. She worked with other lawyers on a case that E2 won in Kenya last May — a case involving 11 girls who had been sexually assaulted.

“Equality effect formed out of the friendships of a number of women,” Koshan said. “It was formed to work on issues of violence against women and girls.”

The team included Mercy Chidi, who runs a Kenyan shelter for women who have been sexually assaulted. Chidi asked E2 to pressure Kenyan police to investigate the cases of these 11 girls. This evidence was used as a basis for E2’s claim that the government was failing to enfore their laws.

E2 and a team of lawyers from Canada, Ghana and Kenya worked together to assemble their case. On International Girls Day in 2012, E2 filed in the High Court of Kenya.
“The action was brought against the Kenyan police commissioner, the director of justice and the public prosecutors,” Koshan said.

The judge found a number of the girls’ rights were violated.

“The court found a violation of a number of the girls’ rights under the Kenyan constitution, including their right to equality, their right to security of the person and the right to access justice,” Koshan said.

After the ruling, the judge ordered police to investigate the 11 girls’ cases and to act promptly and effectively in the future. Koshan said Police have shown a willingness to co-operate with local NGOs to improve their practices.

“We’re working with the police now. The judgement was the first step in this process,” Koshan said. “We’re working to develop training procedures and protocols so that future cases will be handled properly.”

She added that police have been accused of conducting ineffective investigations in the past, which was in violation of Kenyan and international law.

Koshan notes that this case was successful because it highlighted the violation of Kenyan laws specifically.

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