WOMEN TALES OF MOUNTAIN OF HORROR
Mount Elgon District is a small, rural area in western Kenya situated on the border between Kenya and Uganda bordering Bungoma sistrict in the south, Teso district in the south west and the larger Trans Nzoia in the East. Mt Elgon, was affected by conflict since 1992 .Nearing the election period in 2006, an organised militia sprung up called Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF); they extorted, tortured, raped, abducted,murdered and evicted people from ancestral homes in the mountain (IRCT in Voices on 12/06/2012).SLFD began as a local group that rebelled against the corrupt and unfair allocation of land at chepyuk settlement scheme by the then central government. This group later became criminal. With the elections of2007, it was politicized and was used by politicians to hit at their rivals or political opponents.The District (Mt. Elgon) experiences a conflict that escalated in 2005 when the rebel group Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) took up arms over what was called a land dispute.
Sexual, social, psychological violence against women in the mountain
According to Mwatikho Torture Survivors Organization (MATESO), a human rights organisation and IRCT member centre in Kenya, women survivors in mount Elgon have touching testimonies of their experiences between from 2005 to 2008(ICR in Voices-12/06/2012). The testimonies of survivors are also presented by MSF (MSF.May 2008). The IRCT reported that Kenyan military were dispatched to the area (Mt. Elgon) in 2008, to help save residents from the cruelty of the sabaot land defence force (SLDF). Reports quickly emerged that the Kenyan military had followed the tactics of the rebel group: The report says that the armed forces were accused of assaults, kidnapping, torture and murder of Mt. Elgon residents. MATESO was at the forefront of documenting the cases of violence and treating the victims of torture, conflict, human rights violations (IRCT in Voices on 12/06/2012.) This put the residents, particularly the women and girls in an awkward situation. They found themselves dropping from the frying pan into the fire.Below are testimonies of our sisters experiences the 2005-2008 mountain of horror;
Helen recounts the day of horror; At around 5pm, Helen was home when the men came to her compound. They asked for her husband, but he was not at home. They demanded to know how many of the SLDF she knew; since they alleged that she went round talking about them. She declined and that is when they kidnapped her and brought her to an unknown place. There, they blindfolded her, raped her in turns and even beat her for almost 24 hours. The following day she was unconscious, but they did not let her go. She was told to open her mouth where one of them urinated and yet another forced her to eat human feces. After all this, they left her, but she was nearly unable to walk home because of the pain she had. She forced herself up because she believed that if she continued to stay there, others might come and continue the torture. She tried, and thankfully, a person helped her home. When she made it home, her husband took her to hospital where she was treated and tested for HIV/AIDS. Later on that husband rejected her, alleging that she was infected with HIV/AIDS and other venereal diseases. In this domestic dispute, she lost her child as a result of family negligence and the stigmatization she underwent(MSF.May,2008).
A was taken from home into the bushes by a military man. where she was raped by in turns leaving her unconscious until she was found the next morning(MSF, May 2008)
B was asked by the military man why she was not expecting a child. The army man told her on the face that he was going to make her pregnant. he drugged B on the bed in the house wile the second military man was watching, waiting for his turn. He pulled B’s pants down, forced himself inside her, and when he was satisfied the next soldier took his turn and they raped her in turns over and over again.(MSF. May.2008)
Humanitarian consequences of violence against women
The organizations that operated on the ground noted that the humanitarian consequences of the violence to the local communities were huge whereas the national and international communities closed their eyes on the crisis of civilians in Mt. Elgon(Ibid.2008). The following are some of the humanitarian consequences of Mt Elgon as they impacted the women and their families in the mountain;
o Multiple displacements of populations
o Lack of access to basic medical services
o Lack of food and adequate shelter
o Women left as heads of households when men and boys were taken into the detention camps for screening
o Family separations through detentions of men, fleeing of men for safety and brutal deaths of the members of the communities
o Loss of property through arson attacks; food stores, houses, business premises, cattle
o Infections with STI including HIV/AIDS
o Sexual harassment- Rape
o Systematic torture
o Loss of loved ones and never seeing their bodies to date
o Denial of their rights after the deaths of their spouses working in local government-no support whatsoever
o Exposure to cold
o Castration of the men
Recommendations to world leadership
Given that the above conflict infringed on the basic human rights of women and their families, it is important to note here that the government and local ledership have the mandate to intervene in situations likely to compromise the safety of people. We have seen this conflicts in the recent past where so many people in Tana Delta at the costal strip in Kenya have lost human lives, animal lives, property and peace thy enjoyed for years. I therefore recommend that;
o Leadership listen to early warnings
o Women and their families are given their full rights of protection and access to basic medical care in conflict regions
o Perpetrators of violence face the full force of law-take responsibility of their actions
o Gender issues are fully integrated in interventions strategies by government –do no harm to vulnerable populations
o Support groups are formed around those affected by violence for counseling support and rehabilitation and not discouraged from giving the needed services to the survivors.
o Women rights to safety and basic needs be respected-claims for their benefits be honored
o Justice and reconciliation teams be strengthened to help perpetrators and survivors of the violence to fully heal
o Apology be given-for not taking action when it needed to be taken to those who suffered, lost loved ones or survived the violence
Mt. Elgon violence was marked with silence, and sealing off of the area and the help the women needed to get was no where to be reached. Due to this gap, many died, others were left seriously traumatized, and others are yet to move on almost over four years since this happened. The women have been left with permanent scars, some live with the hope of finding their loved ones, others are living with HIV and AIDS, whereas other are unable to support their families because of the interference the violence had on their livelihood………I write this with full knowledge that there are many women suffering tin similar crises. This is why we should stand in solidarity with all those who have suffered or are still suffering violence around the globe. We are hereby mandated to promote peace, and take serious action now to stop violence against women.