30 January 2013

Tanzania: Rape Incidents in Zanzibar - Public Blame Police, Judiciary

Zanzibar — VICTIMS of Gender Based Violence (GBV), parents, and activists have now joined to raise their voices against police and judiciary ostensibly for failing to deliver justice on cases related to abuse.

It is a long time now, rape victims in Zanzibar lament about case delays and suspicious dismissals, prompting them to ask where they should go for justice. Despite some duplication, data from Police, one-stopcentres, and activist groups such as Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association (ZAFELA), Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), and the Zanzibar Legal Services Centre (ZLSC) shows that women and children abuse continues, and yet very few accused are convicted across the islands.

The ministry responsible for youths, children and women development also says that police and judiciary have been discouraging victims of rape, and activists say that most cases are delayed or dismissed and criminals set free! But also the Minister for Social Welfare and the Development of Youths, Children and Women, Ms Zainab Omar Mohammed, says that deeprooted conservatism of Zanzibar society, in which many victims are scared to come forward for fear of being shamed, is to blame.

"In addition to police and judiciary problems in handling rape cases, even with increased awareness, parents of victims are still reluctant to report cases of rape," the Minister says adding that the few who go to the police face numerous challenges in getting their perpetrators put behind bars.

Activists complain of "Uncaring forensic examinations, lack of unskilled counselling, shoddy police investigations and weak prosecutions in the courts are some of the challenges in combating GBV." They say that in many courts, judges and prosecutors lack skills in handling GBV cases, leading to trials that last years, intimidation of victims and witnesses, and dropping of many cases before judgment."

Attitudes on abuse cases remain another problem and that still many police, allow negative and damaging stereotypes of rape victims being licentious to interfere with their duties," observes Ms Asha Abdi of TAMWA. The legislator for Wawi constituency in Pemba Island, Mr Saleh Nassor Juma, last week mentioned as an example, painful incidents of rape which happened in Pemba Islands where two children under the age of ten years, were raped, but their cases have dragged on for a year now as the victims continue to suffer.

Statistics from one-stopcentre and the police, show that on average at least one case of rape or any form of abuse of women and children is reported daily at the centres, leaving some children with mental or psychological problems. "The police force is still not gender insensitive, but training and sensitisation is definitely needed," says Ms Mzuri Issa, Coordinator, TAMWA-Zanzibar, adding that for a victim to report at a police station, procedures that follow are often exhausting, humiliating and distressing for the victim.

Although Zanzibar is being supported by development partners to establish and develop Rape Crisis intervention Centres, dubbed 'one-stopcentres', the formal system needs to be improved "mainly the medical and psychological support of victims." Dr Msafiri Marijan, a pathologist at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, says a lot has to be done including more proper training, equipment, and skilled personnel are important should Zanzibar want to minimize cases of abuse.

"One-stop-centres are meant to help victims of rape, but the centres are still with inadequate support including lack of standard privacy, and "some victims are reluctant to be treated or counselled by men." The World Health Organisation (WHO)'s guidelines for medico-legal care for sexual assault victims state that the health and welfare of the victim is "the prime priority", yet this remain a big challenge to implement.

One of the biggest obstacles to winning justice for rape victims is the length of trials as previously mentioned in this article; activists complain, attributing delays and unfair judgment to corruption and incompetence in handling rape cases. Most of the rape cases tried in courts result in acquittals due to police failure to perform adequate investigations. The perception now among the majority Zanzibaris is that perpetrators can get away with crimes Scott free, thus there is no fear of execution.

With available courts, judges/magistrates, and prosecutors, many would have expected to move cases faster in Zanzibar of about 1.3 million people, but people are discouraged. This means that cases are often dropped, and the accused acquitted, long before all the evidence is heard and a judgment given. The victims often become tired and disillusioned, unable to spend the time and money required to attend court hearings.

As a result, victims can be pressured into accepting illegal "out-of-court" settlements such as a small cash payment. In some situation, the victim's family is pressurised into marrying their daughter to the accused. People also complain about lack of witness protection, and that it needs to be brave to be a witness in rape cases. Lack of money for transportation to courts for witness, and fear of facing cross examination, people become reluctant to give witness.

Zanzibar Minister for Constitution and Legal Affairs Mr Abubakar Khamis Bakar admits that delays of cases and sometimes dismissal "is because witnesses do not turn-up when asked to do so." He asked his colleagues in Zanzibar House "to spare no efforts in educating and encouraging people to give witness in rape cases. We can only win the war against rape and other abuse on women and children through collaboration."

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