Government asked to strengthen witness protection program
Government should strengthen the framework of witness protection programme in Taita-Taveta County as part of a public campaign to eradicate rampant sexual offences in the region.
Sauti Ya Wanawake, a lobby group that advocates for girls and women rights, said sexual and gender-based violence in the region had spiraled despite concerted efforts by government, NGOs and other stakeholders to contain the vice.
In a meeting on Saturday in Voi town, the group noted that weak policies, lack of proper awareness and fears of reprisals by culprits were major contributors to widespread cases of violence towards women.
Ms. Makrina Mwamburi, an official, said that most members of public were scared of volunteering information due to lack of strong witness protection strategies pointing out that most witnesses would be compelled to testify during hearings and this exposed their identities to the families of the culprit. After such exposure, the witnesses would live in fear of reprisals.
“Most people are unwilling to give information to the police because they will be called to testify in courts. That puts their very safety in peril. To avoid such, they prefer not to come out,” she said.
The group said the government needed to enhance the witness protection programme and ensure tipsters and witnesses were kept anonymous.
The concerns on well-being of witnesses comes at a time the region is grappling with a sharp spike in number of bizarre cases where aged women have been raped and murdered by unknown people.
A fortnight ago in Lushangonyi village in Wundayi, a 71-year old woman was gang-raped and left for dead. She died a week later in hospital. In Mid-2017, another elderly woman was raped and murdered in the same village.
Other such cases where vulnerable old women are being targeted by rapists have been reported in some villages in Mwatate and Voi sub-county. There are reports that members of public know the identity of the culprits but are unwilling to volunteer information because their security is not guaranteed.
Ms. Beatrice Mnjala, another official, said there was need to set specific timelines for such cases to be heard and determined to avoid delays arguing that prolonged rape and defilement cases often ended prematurely due to lack of witnesses who often changed their minds on testifying.
“Some cases take so long that witnesses often decide not to participate in hearings. The cases ultimately collapse due to weak evidence,” she said.
The group also appealed to the Chief Justice to bar Kadhi Courts from handling domestic cases amongst members of Muslim community that involved violence against women.
“If a case involves violence against woman, such should be handled by a criminal court instead of being handled like a religious issue,” she said.
By Wagema Mwangi