IHRP clinic student, Sylvie McCallum-Rougerie, reports back from Kenya

Monday, May 14, 2012

By Sylvie McCallum-Rougerie (2L)

This academic year, as a participant in the International Human Rights Program's legal clinic, I had the opportunity to work with an organization committed to fighting gender inequality in one of its most dangerous manifestations: sexual violence against girls. The Equality Effect, along with partners Ripples International and FIDA-Kenya, have been working on a major constitutional claim aimed at ensuring accountability for sexual violence in Kenya. To do so, these organizations have been collecting evidence on police failures to investigate defilement cases. Some of the cases encountered will form the basis of the constitutional petition, which will likely be filed within the next year.

This is an opportune time to fight for change in Kenya. In 2010, Parliament enacted a new Constitution that has the potential to offer some of the broadest rights protections in the world. The 160 Girls case will be a key opportunity for the courts to give these new rights broad interpretations, and approach them with a gendered perspective.

At the end of April, the IHRP gave me the opportunity to attend a weeklong meeting with the 160 Girls team in Nanyuki, Kenya. The meeting aimed to develop the final details of the litigation strategy before the case is filed. Some of the key issues that needed to be resolved by the group were surprisingly difficult from a strategic perspective. Which girls, from those whose cases were sufficiently well documented, should be named as petitioners? What remedies should be requested from the Court? Should the case be filed in Meru, closest to where the girls reside, or in Nairobi, the capital? By participating in the meeting, I not only got to weigh in on these decisions, but also got a behind-the-scenes look at what launching a major constitutional case entails.

My role in this project, along with my Clinic partner Meghan Lindo, was to contribute research on international and comparative law. Kenya’s Constitution incorporates conventional and customary international law directly into Kenyan law, which means that international sources are not only persuasive in Kenyan courts, but binding. At the strategy meeting, I gave a presentation on policing standards across various jurisdictions. In other words, what steps are police officers required to take in a sexual assault investigation in Canada, South Africa, and Kenya? Using these standards, the 160 Girls submissions can show that Kenya’s police have failed to live up to the level of due diligence that is required not only by Kenya’s policies, but by international consensus. The interesting part of this research is that it can be used to inform the content of several legal arguments, whether constitutional or treaty rights. 

Because this was my first time traveling to Africa, I also took the opportunity to visit some of Kenya’s amazing sights. I was able to enjoy a spectacular view of Mount Kenya during the week of the meeting, since we were staying at the foot of the mountain. I also visited Nairobi National Park and neighbouring attractions, like the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Nairobi Giraffe Centre.

I cannot thank the IHRP and the Equality Effect enough for giving me this amazing opportunity.