Milestone for International Justice in Kenya

January 27, 2012

Kenya police passout paradeOn Monday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that four out of six senior-level Kenyan officials must stand trial for crimes against humanity. This includes two presidential hopefuls, and all four are accused of complicity in the widespread violence that erupted in the aftermath of the bitterly disputed 2007 presidential elections which left over half a million Kenyans displaced and over 1,100 killed.

The ruling by the ICC marks an important milestone for victims of violence and their right to justice, truth, and reparations, and will also go far in setting a historic precedent in ensuring international justice for crimes committed against humanity worldwide. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo stated:

“Another significance of the ruling is that it defined what crimes against humanity are. It goes back to Nuremberg and makes clear that no country has sovereignty to attack civilians”

While the Kenyan government continues to protest the ICC’s involvement, Monday’s decision to pursue prosecution and hold Kenyan leaders accountable for their role in inciting and propagating crimes against humanity is a necessary first step to preventing a recurrence in the future. The stakes are high. With elections once again approaching in 2013, Kenya and the international community must remain diligent in pursuing justice, accountability, and reconciliation efforts to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The Technological Milestone

Yet, what many people probably didn’t think about when they heard the announcement earlier this week was the fact that the post-election violence in Kenya also yielded a small revolution in emergency response. Within a few days of the onset of the crisis, a group of (local) social entrepreneurs produced an online platform that allowed for the crowd-sourced collection of event data, such as riots, deaths or displacement. The platform was open to everyone with a cell phone or computer, effectively making any Kenyan a potential citizen journalist or human rights monitor. Ushahidi was born.

Ushahidi is a tool that can be easily deployed, in fact within minutes if one uses the web-based version Crowdmap. During the Kenya crisis, it helped to collect and provide crucial information on a rapidly evolving situation. Ushahidi, in addition to the traditional media outlets and human rights monitors, contributed to raising crucial awareness on a rapidly deteriorating situation and helped to galvanize international pressure for accountability of abuses.

Re-deployed in numerous emergencies since then – most notably in aftermath of the Haiti earthquake – it is now the standard tool for election monitoring and used both during complex emergencies and natural disasters.

What is the value added for a human rights watchdog?

While it still remains to be seen whether the collected event data would be admissible in legal proceedings – the added value for human rights work (simplified) is two-fold:

  1. It’s an extremely useful tool to create situational awareness, with (nearly real time) updates from a usually difficult to access area.
  2. Second, the aggregated presentation of information on a map more often than not compels users to dig deep into the issue and ultimately compels them to become engaged – in the case of Kenya to join calls for accountability.

A current example is the Syria Crisis Tracker, which collects data on crimes committed in Syria in the context of the current uprising. As a human rights advocate, I find it useful to direct the public to this resource that visually demonstrates spatial and temporal trends of human rights violations in Syria, before asking them to join our calls for accountability.

While Monday’s ruling at the ICC is a step in the right direction in beginning to ensure that those responsible for atrocities in Kenya are held responsible for their crimes, thousands of victims are still waiting for justice. Stay tuned for updates as we follow and support the ICC’s work to ensure justice and accountability for the survivors of violence in Kenya!