Take a closer look at some of the events and stories taking place across the world to stand up for human rights.


“If all remain silent, who will know about the injustices?”

Jaqueline Mutere, initiated Grace Agenda, a community-based organization that supports the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence following the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya. She created that organization to respond specifically to women who, like herself, had conceived children from these rapes.

Jaqueline wanted to be a voice for these survivors. Many of the victims had been attacked by police officers, the very men who bore the duty to protect them; and because of the chaos that reigned during what was weeks of violence and the perpetrators had been difficult to identify, rare were the victims that have been able to come out publicly. Two years after given birth to her daughter she created Grace Agenda.

We asked Jaqueline now that we are all faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, how she has been able to continue her work as a human rights defender, and how it has affected her community of survivors.

“The confinement due to the pandemic is something that is really working on people's psyche. Water points in informal settlements have been a place of bullying; there has been a lot of domestic and sexual violence; women and children have born the economic brunt of the lockdown. Sadly, there is simply no money for food. I reported suicides due to depression of people who were unable to manage; and one woman uniquely abandoned her husband and seven children because his income had become very limited and she simply could not take it anymore so she walked out.

Nobody wants to be associated with death

As much as I would like to do things, I am very limited by my resources and reach because of the prevention measures during the pandemic. What has been my saving grace is the network of survivors and other human rights defenders that I work with. They continue to share information on the different situations in the country. OHCHR in Kenya has committed to support our monitors accompany survivors to health facilities for services related to sexual or domestic violence. However, these women do not want to go because they think will be tested for COVID-19 and testing may lead to quarantine. Nobody wants to leave their family to go and be confined.

The stigma around COVID-19 is that you are going to die from the disease. The messaging has created panic, and if people are only told about death, they will avoid testing at all costs. Nobody wants to be associated with death. We should talk more about some of the victories, for example, those who came out of quarantine negative, those who survived, or those who have recovered from the virus.

Caring for others and for myself

I have engaged survivors as monitors. You know at times, some action is just by default. They are willing to give me information on the situation on the ground that I then highlight to OHCHR’s offices in Addis Ababa and Nairobi. Given the opportunity to have resources, I would also be able to give the community health volunteers and the survivors on my team support for their communication activities and their work as facilitators. We would be able to speak to communities and have online campaigns to give out proper information on the impact of COVID-19 or on the availability of reproductive healthcare services. This kind of information helps design interventions.

During the lockdown, my movement was limited within the capital. I do a lot of phone calling for the people outside of Nairobi, but where it is absolutely necessary for me to be visible, I am visible. I am limited in my scope because my mandate is for sexual violence but, because I have been seen to support other people in other aspects, I have become a reference point for other issues. It is important to teach someone to fish instead of fishing for them all the time; that dependency is not good for personal growth. Homegrown solutions are always best for homegrown problems and hence communities adopt solutions that are relevant to them. Therefore, I have helped initiate welfare organizations for women to get themselves together and mobilize resources by applying for funds and other resources. I would also like to support the monitors who do the work for me by being able to give them even food for the day. This is my perspective of support with dignity.

As for me, when my body tells me that enough is enough, I say enough is enough. It is important to listen to one’s body otherwise, you are useless to yourself and others. I am usually a stickler for doing housework; it is amazing how you can find that everything is dirty in the house when you are sitting in it for extended periods. It occurred to me that I was using that as a crutch to get rid of this restlessness that I had inside of me. And so now I have learned just to wind down, quietly, and also take spiritual time to reconnect with my creator and my maker and realign my thoughts and purpose knowing that there is only so much I can do.

As I mentioned, the water points have been a place of friction. On the way to the water points, people often have to pass through dark corridors. Two girls were violated in one of those corridors. Two other girls had arrived early at a water point. It was still dark. While they were queuing to draw water, someone told them they could leave their containers in the queue and come and wait in his house. The girls were kidnapped and they went missing for a whole weekend. They did not have faith in the justice system, that someone could walk them through the process of reporting their violation to attain justice. They also believe, that seeking justice is just time consuming, having to go to the hospital, sit in line, tell their story over and over, go for counselling… Spending a whole day going through the process was just not worth it for them.

At times, the trauma is such that you do not really want to go through with the investigations. I have been asked several times and I have even asked myself, “for what purpose or for whose benefit do we go all the way to the judiciary to see this person sentenced? Is it for the organization that is sponsoring the process? Is it for my feeling of justice? Is it for my body?” A lot of soul searching happens and the worst part of it is that, at times, you go to court but the perpetrator has been released. While investigations are going on, the perpetrator is not confined to the police station or taken into remand; he is back in the community and threatening you.

Nevertheless, I get reprieve when I attend international and other regional meetings. It gives me a chance to exhale, to meet new people, and share experiences. You make new friends, network and have a chance to rest.

Standing up for human rights

So, who will stand up? If I do not speak, who will speak? If everybody decides to be quiet, who will ever know about the injustices that take place in the community, man against man, man against the duty bearers, or man against Government or vice versa? If I do not do it, who will? If not me? Who. If not now, when?

The time is NOW for Human Rights!”

Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the persons featured in the story and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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