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August 3, 2003



By Jennifer Friedlin - WeNews correspondent

DOL DOL, Kenya (WOMENSENEWS) --Karamas Walebutunui says she was
always scared of the British soldiers stationed near her remote tribal village in
northern Kenya. Stories abounded of soldiers raping the pastoralist Masai women
as they herded sheep and goats through the vast grasslands. Then, about 10 years
ago, Walebutunui claims, her fears came true.

"I saw the men coming and I started running away but then they started emerging
from the bush," recalled Walebutunui, ruffs of red, yellow and black beads
wrapped around her neck and looped through her stretched earlobes. "I tried to
scream and cry but there was no one to help me. When they got hold of me, five
men raped me. That's all I remember."

Walebutunui is one of approximately 600 women from the nomadic Masai and
Samburu tribes who have recently come forward alleging they were raped over a
period of 30 years by British soldiers on rotation in northern Kenya for training

After years of living silently with their claims, the women are now preparing to file
the equivalent of a class-action against the British Army. They have hired Martyn
Day, a British solicitor who recently won a $7.4 million settlement for more than
230 residents of the Dol Dol region maimed by live munitions left by Britain's
armed forces.

During a recent visit to Dol Dol, a dusty village without electricity or paved roads,
Day said he took the women's case once he determined that there were enough
medical records, police reports and transcripts to support some of the allegations
and to prove the British army's negligence in failing to stop the attacks.

In at least eight instances, reports of the alleged rapes were made to the British
army, Day said. And a transcript of a meeting held in 1983 indicates that tribal
chiefs approached British military officers with the accusations. The rapes,
however, allegedly continued for nearly two more decades.

Attorney Relishes Prospect of Lawsuit

Standing before 300 Masai women, their vibrant wraps and beads creating a sea
of orange and red under the bright Kenyan sun, Day said he would relish the
chance to try their case against the British Army.

"I think it is so absolutely appalling what the British Army has done that I would
love to see them in the witness box defending their position," said Day.

Maj. Rachel Grimes, a spokesperson for the Special Investigation Branch of the
Royal Military Police, said the British military was investigating the crimes and is
"treating the allegations very seriously." She declined to discuss specific findings of
the investigation or to discuss the army's response to the accusations.

If the British army fails to respond to the claims by the fall, Day said he would
proceed with the lawsuit. In the meantime, he is evaluating the hundreds of
allegations that have poured out from villages located near the training grounds.

One of those villages, Archer's Post, is accessible only be a dirt road that
stretches through expansive reserves of elephants and impala. Here, more than
200 claimants say the British hunted them like animals.

Haliwa Milgo, a Muslim resident of this predominantly Christian Samburu village,
says she was raped 20 years ago while washing clothes in the river.

As three soldiers approached her and her young niece, two wooed the child with
biscuits while the third pulled her 300 feet and tackled her to the ground, she says.
With her face pushed against the dirt, Milgo, now 42, says she was raped from

After the alleged attack, Milgo says rumors spread through the town. When her
father, a devout Muslim from Somalia, heard of what happened, Milgo said he
was too ashamed to go to the authorities.

"In this clan, a girl is not supposed to go with any man. She is supposed to stay
with the family until she is married," said Milgo, who was unable to marry because
of the stigma of the alleged rape.

Nine months later Milgo gave birth to a mixed race boy. He, too, has faced
difficulties. Kids in school mockingly called him "mzungu," or white person. He
has had a hard time finding work to raise the money for a university education.

Although Milgo and many of the other alleged victims attribute their hardships to
the rapes, proving a large proportion of these cases so many years later will be
difficult. Milgo only has the testimony of her family and a man who supposedly
witnessed the attack to substantiate her claims.

DNA testing to identify her son's father would be nearly impossible since Milgo
admits that she would have a hard time picking out the suspected man from all the
soldiers who pass through Archer's Post in a given year.

"To me, these people look alike. I can't distinguish one from the other," said Milgo
of the British.

Women Form Independent Village

Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, the alleged rapes appear to have shaken up
life in these villages in more ways than one.

Rebecca Samaria, a women's rights activist in Archer's Post, says she spent years
complaining about the alleged rapes to the all-male Samburu chiefs. But they
barely listened.

As the rapes allegedly continued, husbands walked out on their wives, taking the
family's precious cows and any other valuable possessions, as is their right in
Samburu culture.

In response, Samaria, 38, started an independent village in 1990 where 25
abandoned and impoverished women now live and work. Today, the women
support the humble collective of mud and dung huts by pooling their resources.
They sell beaded jewelry and run a campsite and cultural center for tourists. The
proceeds have been used to establish a primary school and to send a couple of
children to a university.

In the safe haven of the collective, the women also debate issues such as female
genital mutilation and domestic violence, an accepted part of Samburu tradition.

"We have decided to start the group to uplift our lives," said Samaria, the sound
of women singing in Samburu and dancing echoing through the camp. "These days
the women are coming up very nicely and taking care of their families and making
their family to be strong."

Now, Samaria hopes, the lawsuit will help to deliver a modicum of justice, too.

Jennifer Friedlin, a journalist based in New York, recently traveled to Africa to
report on women's lives there.

For more information:

Also see Women's eNews, April 1, 2002: - "Rape Is Prominent Issue in Kenya
Elections": - http://womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/864/

Amnesty International--UNITED KINGDOM - "Decades of Impunity: Serious
Allegations of Rape of Kenyan Women - by UK Army Personnel": -

Amanitare: African Partnership for Sexual and Reproductive Health - and Rights
of Women and Girls: - http://www.amanitare.org



Copyright 2003 Women's eNews. All Rights Reserved.
For more Women's eNews, the daily news service for all women, visit www.womensenews.org.


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