Justice for GBV victims: The highs and lows
Dinah Nyiramahirwe, 28, got married at the age of 16 after being pressured by her parents. Speaking to The New Times, she reveals that after getting pregnant, her parents forced her to get married even when neither of them was ready to start a family together. “After a year in marriage, when I was about to turn 17, he became abusive and toxic, and began to beat me up day and night until he knocked out two teeth, among other injuries whose scars I still have,” she says. Nyiramahirwe lived that way for eight years but never reported her husband or filed for divorce until her family did it for her. However, after her husband was arrested, she was the one who bailed him out. “I used to think that he would probably change. Besides, he was the head of the family. Generally, I was afraid to lose him because he was supporting our livelihoods,” Nyiramahirwe explains. When her husband went back to threatening her, saying that he would kill her, she finally got the strength to leave him. His constant threats prompted her to report him again, where he was arrested, tried, and convicted, and is now serving his jail sentence. Nyiramahirwe commends various institutions such as Isange One-stop Center and the Legal Aid forum (LAF) for their help throughout the whole process of getting justice. Furthermore, she points out that even though she got help and justice, there are many victims of Gender Based Violence (GBV) who still cover for their abusers, and calls for stronger approaches to address it. An example is Mahoro (not real name), an 18-year-old with a two-and-half-year-old child. She tells The New Times that after being gang-raped by three people at the age of 15, she was broken and decided not to report them. She couldn’t remember their faces because the traumatic incident happened at night. Her family mistreated her when they learnt she was pregnant, and even after she gave birth. They would refuse to cook to punish her and her child until she decided to move out with the child, even though she didn’t know how she’d survive independently. Now, her hope for justice is nearly lost because apart from not remembering her abusers’ faces, it has been more than three years since the abuse, and convictions for such cases are almost unheard of. Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) spokesperson, Thierry Murangira, pointed out that over the five fiscal years (2017 until June 2022) the institution has received 52,767 GBV cases. In 2017-2018, reported cases were 6,082, and the number increased in 2018-2019 to 7,882. The trend kept rising to 10,549 in 2019-2020, and to 13,670 in 2020-2021. Cases rose again to 14,584 in 2021-2022. “The cases will only start to decline when the community stops tolerating GBV crimes,” he said. Weighing in on what RIB does to address GBV and curb the issue of not reporting, Murangira pointed out various measures such as awareness campaigns in schools, local communities and media, intensive investigation on GBV cases, and training local leaders in GBV crimes prevention and reporting, among others. Mary Musoni, the senior legal empowerment officer at Legal Aid Forum (LAF), said that as a legal firm, they also assist the victims in various ways to access justice, including legal representation before courts, search for paternity, divorce due to harassment, provision of court fees, provision of DNA tests, and enforcement of court decisions, among others. According to Musoni, over the past five years (2018-2022), LAF has provided support to victims of GBV and they have handled 857 cases related to GBV that include 107 from teen mothers. “Many cases are early pregnancies, like child defilement for girls under the age of 18 years, who refused to denounce suspects and many alleged perpetrators who were released due to lack of evidence,” she said. Indeed, this year’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR)’ report has shown that more than 40 per cent of defilement cases were not lodged in courts. It indicated that in 2020-2021, the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) received 5,278 cases of sex-based violence committed against children (aged below 18 years), but 2,271 which represent 43 per cent of the total, were not taken to court. The report also showed that challenges that lead to prosecution not moving ahead to lodge cases in courts are largely related to a lack of evidence. Commenting on gaps specifically identified that lead to the delay of access to justice for GBV cases, Musoni noted, include lack of evidence, a culture of silence, victims who refuse to denounce suspects of SGBV cases, the arrangement between families, ignorance of the law and bad culture. Musoni urged people to break the silence and give everyone a chance arguing that GBV will progressively end when women and men participate equally and freely in all spheres of life.