Tales of Rape, Sodomy by British Soldiers (Inter Press Service)
LONDON (IPS/GIN)–Attempts to investigate complaints that at least 650 Kenyan women were raped by British army soldiers over three decades have run into “a wall of silence,” according to Amnesty International.
Amnesty is demanding an independent inquiry into the complaints against British army soldiers sent to remote areas of Kenya for military exercises over a 30-year period.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defense in London told IPS: “There is an ongoing Royal Military police investigation, so we are not in a position to comment.”
Amnesty says that kind of inquiry is not good enough. “This investigation is being carried out by another wing of the military,” Judith Arenas from Amnesty said. “You cannot investigate yourself.”
Amnesty published a report on July 2, following investigations by a team it sent to Kenya in June. The report, “United Kingdom: Decades of impunity: Serious allegations of rape of Kenyan women by UK Army Personnel,” says the British army had turned a blind eye to the reports of rape.
“The fact that so many rape claims over such a long period of time were neither investigated nor prosecuted shows a systemic failure of the UK army and may amount to institutional acquiescence which encouraged a pattern of grave human rights violations by members of the UK army,” said Amnesty’s secretary-general Irene Khan.
Amnesty International has received information that British army officials in Kenya may have become aware of rape allegations as early as 1977.
“It is particularly worrying that both the UK and Kenyan authorities failed to investigate these allegations, and the fact that there were no repercussions for the perpetrators of these crimes inevitably contributed to their widespread repetition,” Ms. Khan said.
“The women and children born allegedly as a result of these attacks have been suffering in silence for over 30 years, stigmatized, discriminated and outcast within their own community. They have suffered a double injustice–not only were they sexually abused, but the crimes against them have never been properly acknowledged, let alone thoroughly investigated.”
The Amnesty demand follows legal action being brought in Britain on behalf of the women who have come forward to make complaints. Martyn Day, who was given information through local groups in Kenya trying to support the women, has taken up the case.
“When the women first came to see me about six months ago, I couldn’t believe it could be true,” Mr. Day told BBC Radio. “But the more we went to police stations, clinics, hospitals and local government offices, the more we were able to find contemporaneous documentary evidence to show the women had been complaining about the rapes over a 30-year period.”
Mr. Day said: “One of the big issues is going to be finding the individual soldiers who carried out these terrible atrocities. After so many years, it’s going to be very, very difficult.” The primary case he is making is against the British army, he said. “The fact that they failed systematically to ever take steps to stop this happening is the primary source of our case for civil compensation.”
The testimony of one of the women recorded by the Amnesty team gives a vivid glimpse of the kind of trauma the women endured. Oseina Thomas Koitat says she was attacked when she was in her teens by a group of seven British soldiers. She remembers being raped by four of the soldiers, and that she then lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness, she found herself in a pool of blood. After she wandered back, some neighbors took her to her husband, who took her to a hospital. Her husband reported the rape to the police.
She says that after the rape, some people stopped socializing with her, and she feels ashamed because everybody, even her grandchildren, knows what happened to her.
Amnesty wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair about the complaints on May 21. It received a response from the Ministry of Defense on June 23 that said the aim of the investigation of the military police is to “investigate the authenticity or otherwise of the documents” in which the complaints of rape were made.
“We need these complaints investigated impartially and we need to look at these complaints in their wider perspective,” Ms. Arenas said. “There have been cases in Cyprus and Germany where the Ministry of Defense has prosecuted British soldiers for rape. And Amnesty has investigated bullying within the British army, and has investigated complaints about the British army in Northern Ireland and in Iraq.”
The complaints from Kenya need to be investigated fully, because soldiers from the British army are posted in several countries around the world “on the pretext of peacekeeping,” she continued.
“The circumstances surrounding these complaints are dreadful,” she said. “There would have been a far stronger outcry in the media if such a thing had happened in Northern Ireland.”
The Amnesty investigation found that more than half the women who have complained have spoken of gang rapes. “These were not isolated cases,” the report says.