NAIROBI, Kenya, May 7 – A Non-Governmental Organisaton that advocates for the rights of women and girls has welcomed the nomination of Justice Martha Koome who is set to become Kenya’s first female Chief Justice of Kenya.
Voice for Women and Girls’ Rights-Kenya (VWGR), a project of the Journalists for human Rights (JHR), said Justice Koome’s nomination to be CJ means a lot for the advancemnt of gender equality and parity in Kenya.
Justice Koome’s nominated to the position by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) following interviews conducted on ten candidates. She now awaits vetting by Parliament and subsequent appointment by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“Lady Justice Martha Koome’s nomination to the highest office in the judiciary could best be described as a step in the right direction. This is promising for the advancement of gender equality and parity,” said Mustapha Dumbuya, JHR/VGWR Kenya’s Team Leader.
Justice Koome is well known as a human rights defender in her early days as a lawyer and is now a Judge of the Court of Appeal, where she has served since 2013.
She is the first woman to be nominated to the position and will be taking over from David Maraga who retired in January on attaining the mandatory age of 70.
“Her nomination as the first woman Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya is historic and also timely especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that has exacerbated the vulnerability of women and girls in society,” Dumbuya said.
According to UN data released in late September, lockdowns have led to increases in complaints or calls to report domestic abuse of 25 percent in Argentina, 30 percent in Cyprus and France and 33 percent in Singapore.
In essentially all countries, the UN said, measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus have resulted in women and children being confined at home.
In Kenya, the ministry o Public Service Gender and Youth said Gender-Based Violence cases hit record high numbers in 2020, raising concerns on the safety of women and girls who are the most vulnerable and affected in the society, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statistics released in April show that there was a 36 percent spike in GBV cases in 2020 when 5,009 cases were recorded.
“The findings of the study established that the number of Gender-Based Violence cases reported between January and June 2020 had an increase of 92 percent compared to previous year same period,” said Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia.
The most common forms of Gender-Based Violence identified were physical assault, rape and attempted rape, murder, defilement, grievous harm, child neglect and psychological torture.
The conviction rate of gender-based violence cases is low in Kenya, with most cases never investigated or prosecuted.
Dumbuya said; “Addressing the impunity that comes with these crimes requires law enforcement as much as authorities with the understanding and a passion for social justice.”
Thus, he added, “Lady Justice Koome embodies such qualities and this is why many who support her appointment believe it has brought in rays of hope for the advancement of women and girls’ rights in the judiciary.”
Lady Justice Koome has assured that she is ready to serve even as she awaits vetting by Parliament and the formal appointment.
“As I continue to prepare for the next stage, I wish to convey my profound gratitude to all well-wishers who encouraged and prayed for me. I continue to thank God and seek your prayers as I go through the confirmation process,” she said, “I wish to assure Kenyans of my unwavering commitment to serve to the best of my abilities.”
Koome, who was feted by the United Nations for her advocacy for the rights of children in conflict with the law as well as victims, unsuccessfully sought the CJ office in 2016.
Koome, who has 33-year career experience including 15 years practicing law, said she understood various administrative challenges facing the judiciary including the human capital deficit, judges shortage, infrastructure, and poor coordination.
She also said the Judiciary lacks effective communication with members of the public even as she proposed a good communication system with provision of SMS options from Kenyans to track their cases.
The judge noted that appointment of judges was the main solution to judicial challenges.
She proposed negotiations with the Executive over the stalled appointment of 41 judges of High Court and Appellate Court stations.