This week the military high court in Kigali denied bail to five suspected soldiers and one community policing officer who are accused of raping women in a suburb during the Covid-19 lockdown.
During the bail ruling on Wednesday, the judges said there was much evidence for the alleged crimes.
“The accused are said to have committed rape, robbery, beating, abandonment of work positions and trespass. The court finds it reasonable for all the six to be remanded because there are accused of serious crimes” the judges said during the bail hearing.
Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) has promised that the hearing of the case will be conducted in public at the crime scene.
However, given the ongoing pandemic that limits public gatherings and requires social distancing measures, a public hearing may not be possible soon.
Nonetheless, the gesture is appropriate to send a firm message to perpetrators of gender-based violence that their crimes are a gross violation of human rights.
It is deeply disturbing that the suspects who are entrusted with protecting lives are involved in destroying the same lives.
Such an incident not only undermines the image of our men and women in uniform but also reveals a familiar pattern about the prevailing cases of gender based violence in our society – it disproportionately affects the most vulnerable who are unable to defend themselves.
The perpetrators tend to be in position of power and have a certain level of control over the victims, which makes difficult to resist or fight back. Yet quite often when we think about abuse or misuse of power, we rarely see it within the context of gender-based violence.
For one thing, because gender-based violence most predominantly happens in domestic or informal settings and the perpetrator sometimes has an informal relationship with the victim. Yet this complicates the process of seeking justice.
Quite often the victims are reluctant to report cases because they are worried and rightly so about the repercussions of making accusations against the powerful as few will believe them.
There are also other considerations such as privacy and social stigma. As such, when most victims of gender-based violence assess the risks involved, many tend to stay quiet and get on with their lives.
Worse still, court records show only a few gender-based violence cases are successfully persecuted in courts of law. Therefore, the onus lies with institutions that have oversight over the powerful in our society to hold them to the highest moral standards.
This helps, at the very least, to send a message to the general public that impunity is unacceptable and punishable and perhaps more importantly, that no one is above the law.
Successful prosecution of perpetrators also instils confidence and inspires victims to report gender-based violence. Public awareness campaigns are also needed to change attitudes towards exploitation of the most vulnerable in our society.