Needed: A judicial system more responsive to needs of women, girls

Friday May 24 2019

justice

Victims of gender-based sexual violence in the country will continue to wait longer for justice as the prosecution is failing to get the required evidence to successfully bring cases to court. PHOTO | SEARCH 

RWANDA TODAY
By RWANDA TODAY
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Victims of gender-based sexual violence in the country will continue to wait longer for justice as the prosecution is failing to get the required evidence to successfully bring cases to court.

Sexual violence ranges from verbal harassment to forced penetration, and an array of types of coercion, from social pressure and intimidation to physical force.

This is partly attributed to gaps by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, which is yet to collect evidence in a timely manner to facilitate prosecution proceed with its work.

As such while cases of sexual gender-based violence against women and girls are on the rise, with over 2,715 cases filed at the beginning of the year, from 3,001 in total received in 2017/2018 according to a report by the National Public Prosecution Authority.

There is concern that many victims will not receive justice despite reporting cases due to lack of  ubstantive evidence.

These statistics are unnerving. While research shows that one in two women have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, reporting rates remain less than 30 per cent, making sexual violence one of the most under reported crimes.

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There are many reasons why.

Victims may not speak out because they are ashamed, stigmatised, blame themselves, fear reprisals or re-victimisation, or mistrust the authorities.

As a result, survivors may not make use of services they are entitled to. Many victims are reluctant to report cases because they are traumatised by the experience and are afraid of being judged and blamed by society.

Others, fear for their lives because those involved are powerful. However, what is deeply concerning now is that there appears to be little support and co-ordination among the different agencies responsible for dealing with these cases.

It appears gender-based violence cases are not being treated with the seriousness they deserve and instead institutions are engaging in blame games.

There is a need for senior management in key institutions including prosecution and the Rwanda Investigation Bureau and their partners to prioritise action to prevent and respond to cases as a life-saving intervention.

In addition, the government needs to intensify training for local authorities, law enforcement and judicial officers, including informal justice mechanisms where relevant, to ensure that they recognise, respect and protect the rights of victims.

A rights-based approach is needed where victims are empowered to exercise their rights, rather than assist them as “beneficiaries.” But perhaps more important, communication is crucial among the different stakeholders.

The prosecution has the duty to help victims prepare their cases every day. The prosecutors generally are supposed to speak to the victims and explain the process to them. It is also important to create awareness about the need for forensic evidence, which can only be efficient if the case is reported immediately.

The government should also explore setting up a sexual offences court with well-trained personnel to handle such cases.

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