A message for Moreno-Ocampo

Having spent a week in Kenya, meeting and interviewing all manner of people about the post-election violence that rocked the country in 2007/2008, I could write all manner of things about getting justice for the bastards that carried out such appalling acts.

But I shall keep this entry brief, and simply let the image of one brave young women speak the words that a thousand interviews with aid workers and human rights activists could never manage.

I met her close to Eldoret in the west of the country, where some of the worst of the violence took place. She was pretty, seeming very young and fragile. She was sat I was led in by my Swahili translator, but struggled to stand when she saw me, as no doubt her custom dictated. Her leg was tightly bandaged, and I noticed that crutches rested beside her. I wondered if the violence, which happened two-and-a-half years ago, were responsible for her obvious injuries.

I sat down and began the interview, speaking through the Swahili interpreter, though I felt her English was better than she let on. I had already met several other victims of the violence, who had lost family members, but nothing I had so far heard had prepared me for this interview.

Half an hour after our conversation began – at a point in the story where the woman had felt something hard hit her shoulder and then fainted on the ground – she broke down in tears. I waited patiently and in sympathy, a little confused as to how I should react. My Swahili interpreter also seemed a little unnerved.

Finally, the woman said, in a low, barely audible whisper: “And then the three men raped me.”

What she told be afterwards – for we were only a quarter way through the story – was heart-renching beyond belief. I have interviewed many people who have tragic tales to tell, but this was by far the most upsetting I have so far encountered. Looking into her sad eyes as she recalled her ordeal – eyes so full of joy and laughter and hope the one moment, and so full of sorrow the next – I started to forget to write everything that she was saying. But I knew I wouldn’t have to. This was a story that was going to stay with me for many years to come, perhaps forever, and was certain to haunt my dreams tonight.

Ultimately, the injuries inflicted by the brutal rape damaged her womb, which had to be removed. She broke down in tears as she told me that she can no longer have children. She already has one daughter – the product of a union out of wedlock, the Swahili interpreter told me later, but I didn’t feel as if I ought to press further on this. Her spinal chord is also damaged, and her leg is fractured. She showed me the x-ray. Not being a doctor, it was difficult to make too much of it, but it looked almost broken to me. Hence the bandage – it was keeping her leg together.

X-rays of her skull also showed potential damage in this area, but it wasn’t clear, from the interpretation I received, whether this damage was pyschological or physical.

She needs one million shillings (about ten thousand euros) for the operations to fix her physical body – money that she is never going to find.

My words cannot capture even a tiny bit of what it was like to interview this woman. To look into her eyes and to see the suffering she had endured, and then to capture a flicker of a smile, soon to become a genuine laugh, at some exchange that was made between her and the interpreter. A spirit that, for all the injuries she has suffered, can never be destroyed.

She still receives death threats, and threats of more violence, she told me at the start of our conversaton, explaining why she was nervous to talk. She says that, every few days, she changes house, in case those men that attacked her – or others – discover where she is hiding and come back to finish her off.

I assured her that I would keep her identity a secret, and, as we talked, she started to trust me. So much so that, at the end of our conversation, when I said that, if I wanted to contact her again, I’d go through the person that had set up the interview, she insisted on giving me her full name and contact details.

At the end of our two-hour meeting, she looked at me and, eyes shimmering with hope, asked whether I knew Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor.

I said that I’d met him a few times and would probably see him next week in Kampala.

“Please, give him this message,” she said. “Tell him to come here. Tell him to meet us. Tell him not to meet the government. Why is he not coming to speak to us? I’ll talk to him about my ordeal.”

The hope in her eyes almost brought me to tears. I felt as if I was a fraud – a journalist whose only power lies in the written word, and who certainly doesn’t have much influence over the chief prosecutor of the ICC. But, on the other hand, I was rather pleased that I’ve actually found a willing witness for the prosecution team. Will they pay me as an intermediary, I wonder?

Moreno-Ocampo visited Kenya earlier this month. He stayed in a lavish five-star hotel, and met a few victims that were brought to him by human rights organisations in Nairobi. Not, I might add, by the human rights organisations on the ground in Eldoret. He then spent much time in discussion with the government, hoping that they will continue co-operating him, but also recognising no doubt that many are going to be implicated in his investigations.

Of course, Moreno-Ocampo is pretty well-known in Kenya (his pictures are even on some of the buses) and so he has to take security issues very seriously; he could never do exactly what I have been doing. Also, I realise that Moreno-Ocampo is more the political face of the ICC, and has a team that is actually doing the investigations (which slip in and out of Kenya with much less fanfair).

Nonetheless, the concerns of this admirable woman should certainly be acknowledged, and they were concerns that I have heard repeated, in different forms, during many of my interviews.

Talk to us. Not the government.

The woman gave me a message to give to Moreno-Ocampo. With my hand on my chest, I promised that I would deliver it to him.

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