Dear Prosecutor Ocampo:
Your arrival in Kenya to investigate post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 sends a powerful message not only to Kenyans but to the entire continent of Africa. The violence that erupted resulted in death, displacement, destruction, and rape on a massive scale. However, few people have been brought to justice despite the overwhelming number of crimes that occurred and the scope of violence perpetrated.
While the nature and extent of murder and destruction that occurred has been quantified (1,220 deaths and 41,396 homes destroyed), questions remain about the nature and extent of the sexual violence that was perpetrated. According to the report of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Fact-finding Mission to Kenya, there was a lack of “hard evidence” to determine the “extent and nature of sexual and gender-based violence.” Yet the Commission was “nevertheless concerned that some 322 women and girls sought hospital treatment for sexual assault and rape during this period despite a generalized reluctance to report and the fact that many victims were displaced.”
Fortunately, the Nairobi Women’s Hospital collected samples from hundreds of rape victims. Those rape kits, however, have never been examined using our most powerful forensic technology, DNA. In other words, the “hard evidence” sought by the OHCHR—evidence which would shed considerable light on the “extent and nature” of the sexual violence that occurred—has yet to be analyzed and studied. What better way to determine the number of perpetrators, frequency of assault by each perpetrator, perpetrator’s movement, and possibly the perpetrator’s identity? Given the growing concern over victim and witness intimidation in Kenya, what better way to say to victims, “This is not just your word against theirs? ”
And while DNA technology can prove to be valuable in the context of your specific investigation, leveraging DNA in Kenya will have an even broader impact. The analysis of those rape kits for crucial DNA will provide an important and visible opportunity to leverage this technology in the context of mass sexual assault, particularly in Africa. While rape is a vicious reality on every continent and has been used in genocidal contexts throughout the world, sexual assault is uniquely pervasive in conflicts in Africa. And while forensic DNA technology grows in utility and effectiveness at fighting sexual violence in nearly every other country, the power of DNA is tragically absent in the vast majority of the African continent. Where it is needed most, the power of DNA technology is least available.
Gender based sexual violence, genocide, sexual slavery, human trafficking, and the trafficking of human body parts are only a few areas in which DNA technology, a forensic discipline growing in its effectiveness throughout the rest of the world, could begin to save untold lives in Africa. But if Africans are to imagine the ability to fight such violence with the best weapons available, they must see DNA technology as a reality and used to great effect on their continent. Your mission in Kenya can prove to be that reality.