VMM International Working with Human Rights and Advocacy Partner Organisations:
VMM International delivers an array of international development and volunteering projects, including in human rights and advocacy, many being funded by Misean Cara, working with our partner organisations in countries in the Global South. Founded in 2010 by a passionate group of lawyers, missionaries and humanitarians from multiple nationalities, HAART seeks to bring an end to the criminal activities of human traffickers. Kenya is a source, transit and destination point for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and the sex industry. Although human trafficking is rampant in Kenya, there is an alarming lack of awareness and resistance to the tactics of these purveyors of modern slavery. VMM International volunteer, Ignacio, offers us a glimpse into this world.
It is the third week since I arrived in Kenya. I am sitting on a wooden bench, in a courtroom located somewhere in Nairobi, surrounded by an expectant crowd that patiently listens to the Judge, clerks, prosecutor and parties involved in each case. I do not understand Kiswahili yet, so I cannot really tell what is going on. However, Julie, my colleague, explains to me the developments as we wait for ours.
Re-Victimisation of Human Trafficking Victims:
We are there to accompany and provide support to one of the recipients of HAART’s services in our Kenyan shelter. Her name is Paula (pseudonym), a trafficking victim, informed that she is required to testify. She had received psychological assistance prior to the hearing, and will receive further assistance afterwards, all too necessary to be as mentally prepared as possible to face the challenge of re-telling her story in front of a legal system that still has a lot to do in order to prevent the re-victimization of people in her situation.
Finally, her hearing starts. From time to time she turns around and looks at us with her big eyes and a nervous smile, to check if we are still there. Since in Kenya, as in many other countries, the victim’s participation during the legal proceedings is quite limited and prosecution in criminal cases remains the responsibility of the state, this explains our limited role in the process. As such, we cannot take a real, active role during the hearing, except as support.
It is a human right to be able to cross-examine the evidence whenever one is being accused of a crime. In an ideal situation the defendant should always have legal representation in the form of an advocate. However, the situation in Kenya is not ideal, and in many cases the accused rarely has a defence lawyer. In general, if s/he lacks the funds the government rarely assigns one. This means that if they do not have a lawyer, the responsibility to cross examine the evidence lies with the accused. As fate would have it, this was the case today; the accused had to cross-examine the victim himself.
The Human Face of Trafficking:
There she is, sitting in her wooden chair with her knees together, next to the prosecutor, spitting word by word what happened to her, in front of the exact same person that was responsible for all of her suffering. I feel a knot in my throat as I can only imagine how she must be feeling right now. The bravery she is showing to all of us is a source of inspiration. It is the fuel that makes us feel the hope and sense of responsibility towards the well-being of victims and survivors.
At this hearing, even though the defender was not actually being accused specifically of human trafficking, Paula has found herself in this situation as a direct consequence of being a victim of human trafficking. Sexual abuse was just one of the ordeals that she had had to endure. She was rescued by HAART who then placed her in a shelter managed by another organization. Unfortunately, while in that shelter, supposed to be a place of safety, she was sexually abused again and the flaws of a system designed to protect victims like her become apparent. After this experience, HAART decided that it was necessary to open its own shelter, to prevent another situation like that recurring. Currently, Paula receives all the assistance that our staff can provide in order to help her develop into a resilient human being.
The Need for International Development and Volunteers with this Mission:
Her story is not unique. Unfortunately, a victim of human trafficking and survivor of gender based, sexual violence seeking assistance, however instead, finding herself re-victimized by a system not able to protect her and ensure her safety, is a common story.
Such stories should make us think about how hard all of us – civil society, government agencies, international organizations – need to work in order to implement and develop a system that ensures the protection of victims. We should be encouraging and facilitating their access to justice, as it is a human right, while preventing them from being re-victimized by the very system designed to protect them.
By Ignacio Lepro
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