Cherie Blair CBE
Omnia Strategy LLP

Rape and sexual abuse is a threat that hangs over women wherever they live in the world. But in some countries that threat is more terrible because that violence is much more likely to occur. It takes a lot of work and much courage to try to change the culture that breeds it, to educate people to understand that sexual violence in all its forms is abhorrent, and that these atrocities must be prevented at all costs. The High Court of Kenya has recently taken such an admirable step. 

160 girls between the ages of 3 and 17 sued the government of Kenya for failing to protect them from rape; on the 30 April 2013 the case was heard in the High Court. The girls were supported by a charitable initiative known as the 160 Girls Project, for which I am an honorary legal advisor.  

In Kenya and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, some people hold the horrifying belief that having sex with a young girl, or even a baby girl, can cure HIV and AIDS. Whatever the reason, it's estimated that only 1 in 20 rape victims will bother to report it and only 1 in 6 of them will be brave enough to seek medical assistance. Rape victims - as in the United Kingdom - are often scared of speaking out, and it's also incredibly difficult to get evidence from traumatised children who need psychologists and counsellors to help them work through their ordeals. The complaint made in this case was that although Kenya has a strong constitution protecting people from violence, and impressive gender laws which promise protection from assault, they were not being adequately implemented. 

The oral decision reached by the judge on May 27th found that the police had failed to enforce existing defilement laws (as rape laws are known in Kenya) and that the police’s failure to protect the girls from this crime was a failure of domestic, regional and international human rights law. This landmark ruling is the result of two and a half years of careful legal research, evidence collection and fundraising; it is a huge victory, not only for the girls, but for the legal processes and rule of law in Kenya.

Judge Makau's judgement shows that the girls' evidence had been clearly heard. The Court found that "Police unlawfully, inexcusably and unjustifiably neglected, omitted and/or otherwise failed to conduct prompt, effective, proper and professional investigations to the said complaints. That failure caused grave harm to the petitioners and also created a climate of impunity for defilement as perpetrators were let free."

Kenya is a country with much else to celebrate, as I know myself from visits I've made. So I am delighted that its courts have taken such a strong stance against ignoring sexual violence. As the World Justice Project's data shows, Kenya has some way to go in strengthening its legal frameworks, but this is a great step towards doing so.It is also a pleasure to see my profession doing what it does best, protecting the weakest in society. May this judgment bring hope to women in all parts of the world, and for the women of Kenya may its enforcement begin to make a real difference to their lives. 

Cherie Blair CBE Omnia Strategy LLP

Wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, leading lawyer and committed campaigner for women’s rights, Cherie founded the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in 2008 to help women build small and growing businesses in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. 

Cherie studied law at the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar in 1976. She became a Queen’s Counsel in 1995 and in 2000 co-founded Matrix Chambers. Cherie is also the Co-Founder and Chair of Omnia Strategy LLP, a law firm based in London that provides strategic counsel to governments, corporates and private clients. She has over 35 years as a leading barrister specialising in public law, human rights, European Community law and arbitration.  Cherie currently also sits as a part-time judge and is an accredited mediator. 

In 2007, she was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill medal in recognition of her high ideals and courageous actions and in 2012 received the Trinity Justitia Omnibus Award for her commitment to Human Rights. Cherie became a Commander of the British Empire (“CBE”) in the 2013 New Year's Honours List for services to Women's Issues and to charity in the UK and Overseas.

In addition to founding her own charity, she is a member of the International Center for Research on Women’s leadership council, ambassador for the GSMA Women Programme, honorary vice president of Barnados, president of the Loomba Foundation, ambassador for Scope, trustee of Africa Justice Foundation and patron of a number of charities. She is also Chancellor of the Asian University for Women which seeks to educate girls from within the region to become leaders. Cherie is also Vice-Chair of the US Secretary of State’s International Council for Women’s Business Leadership and Honorary Chair of the World Justice Project. 

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