In a landmark ruling that referenced International Women’s Day, a judge in Kenya has set free a woman who killed her husband after years of domestic violence. The judgement was delivered further to a report from a probation officer who was recently trained by RWI in human rights.
Kenya’s prisons are full of women serving lengthy sentences for hitting back at their abusive partners, with domestic violence tragically rife in the country, and a justice system that rarely takes adequate account of such mitigating circumstances. Setting a dramatic precedent, however, is the recent case of a woman who admitted killing her husband in December last year, while pleading self-defence and a long history of serious abuse that had recently required her hospitalisation.
Before delivering sentence in the case, Hon. Justice R.E. Aburili, a judge at the High Court in Siaya County, ordered a report from Catherine Amimo, a probation officer who attended a training in October 2020 on human rights as part of the cooperation between RWI and the Kenya Probation and Aftercare Service (PACS). The training focused on the practical application of relevant international human rights standards for community corrections, including the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules), which were reflected in the pre-sentence report that Amimo delivered, as well as the ruling that followed.
Taking into account the information and recommendations presented in the report, which noted also that the defendant was the carer for two young children, Justice Aburili handed down a symbolic one-day sentence and ordered her to be freed from the court, assisted to a safe place in the community, and provided with trauma counselling.Even her travel expenses were to be paid!
In the detailed judgement, Justice Aburili observed: “As the world marks the International Women’s Day, the question that this court poses is- what can a person of the accused person be celebrated for and what will she be remembered for? There are only two things to remember her for, from the facts of this case. One, is that she was a butchered, battered, dehumanized and violated woman who had no voice. She persevered through the domestic violence meted on her by her late husband who is described as irresponsible and violent. Secondly, she will be remembered as a person who killed her husband in the process of defending her own life.”
Jackie Mathenge, Programme Officer at RWI responsible for the cooperation between the Institute and PACS, explained
“It’s unprecedented for a ruling like this to take such close account of the international standards. The Bangkok Rules require that the history of victimization of many women offenders be considered during sentencing and that alternatives to imprisonment shall be implemented wherever appropriate and possible. They further direct that sentencing shall take account of the care-giving responsibilities of women offenders, and that separating women from their families should be avoided. They also call for interventions to address the most common problems leading to women’s contact with the criminal justice system, including therapeutic courses and counselling for victims of domestic violence. Catherine Amimo’s report, and Justice Aburili’s judgement, did all of this, and more.”
Mary Mbau, Director of the Probation and Aftercare Service, added
“The RWI training has impacted positively on our officers’ performance, as shown in the quality of pre-sentence reports they have been submitting to courts. In the highlighted case, the probation officer’s report drew upon the Bangkok Rules very eloquently, and enabled the court to arrive at a favorable sentencing disposition for the accused person despite the severity of the offence. The Department looks forward to more favorable change and impact on officers from the trainings.”
The cooperation between RWI and PACS is supported by Swedish Development Cooperation (Sida).
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Josh is Head of the Thematic Area ‘Fair and Efficient Justice’. He previously served as the Director of the RWI Regional Office in Nairobi and before that as Director of the Institute’s Office in Jakarta. Prior to working for RWI, he worked for organisations including the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights.