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Nigeria’s ‘Archaic’ Justice System Frustrates Cases Of Sexual, Gender-Based Violence —Amnesty International

Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization, has revealed that one of its biggest challenges in the pursuit of justice for victims of sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria is the ‘archaic’ justice system in the country.

The international human rights organization said this during the ‘Youth Colloquy on Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls’ held in Abuja on Tuesday.

The 16-day event against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and runs until 10 December which is Human Rights Day.

At the event held at Base University Abuja, the global human rights watchdog highlighted the potential of young persons as catalysts for change in engendering a society where women and girls can live free of violence.

Speaking during the event, Osai Ojigho, Country Director of Amnesty International stated that since the establishment of its Nigeria office in 2015, the NGO has been documenting issues of human rights across the country, including those pertaining to gender-based violence.

Ojigho noted that in 2018, “we released a report focusing on Sexual Violence and Rape in internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in northern Nigeria. This was one of the reports that contributed to a wider discussion in terms of how violence against women and girls is being prosecuted in the country.

“We’ve also been very much involved in the campaigns for the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act to be domesticated across all 36 states in Nigeria. We are happy to report that many states arising from the COVID-19 lockdown began to ratify as well as domesticate this particular law at the state level. we’ve also been campaigning for cases of individuals who have suffered one way or the other, either sexual violence, physical violence, and emotional violence.”

While highlighting some of the cases of sexually violated victims she said, “One of these is the case of Karen, a young girl who was found to have been infected and who subsequently died as a result of being sexually violated in a school here in Abuja. It’s now a year since Karen died.

“Another was a case involving two young girls, which came out as a result of the Covid-19 lockdowns, Barakat, and Uwa as in Edo state.

“We have also been pursuing the cases of survivors of rape, one is a young girl called Umi who was found to have been violated by a neighbour and who subsequently had to receive both psychological and mental, and physical care in order to be able to live a life as normal. And this was a girl that was about four when the incident occurred, and she’s now about seven years old.

She also noted that the organization is all about justice for victims and families of GBV; “All in all, Amnesty International is about justice for the victims and the victims’ families, but also about a situation whereby governments can allocate the necessary resources to the police, to the investigators, to the prosecutors to ensure that those who are found wanting for committing these crimes are brought to book.”

Recalling one of the successful cases they have handled so far, Ojigho said, “I would say Umi’s case because I was quite swift, and I guess it’s because she was also a very young girl, there seems to be a lot of sympathies when cases involving young children. We find that even the police, everybody is sympathetic and wants to work. But many cases of sexual violence take a long period of time for them to be resolved. So, we’re still ongoing on many of the cases that we are monitoring and documenting.”

She mentioned some of the challenges the organization has faced in handling cases of sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria.

“The main shortcoming is the culture of silence, in our society even when victims and survivors want to speak up, family members and people in society encourage them to keep quiet because they feel that they brought shame to their family, their stigma, and therefore it’s also hard to get witnesses to appear in court to support the cases of the victim.

“The second is the police themselves because they are the first contact that victims and survivors meet. They could be discouraged, or they would not take the cases of investigating this seriously, especially when it involves a person of importance or someone who has a lot of power over the victim.

“So, in the case of incest, maybe the father or the uncle, in the case of rape at work, perhaps the boss or a senior member of society, and so you find that in such situations there could be a compromise.

“The other is the justice system. Our Justice system still uses a lot of archaic processes. Cases take long. They’re heard in public, and we know that cases of sexual and gender-based violence tend to be quite intimate. So, it means that the courtroom is to be cleared in order to provide the privacy that is needed for the victims and survivors to speak up.

“We do recognize though, that like in Federal Capital Territory, they’ve set up about four courts designated to be able to hear these cases. But a lot more needs to be done in order for survivors to feel confident to pursue the path of justice in order for them to be compensated for the competitors to be convicted and for them to move on with their lives.

“What people don’t realize is that victims or survivors of gender-based violence, the marks are carried on their bodies in their minds and their psychics. So, until they’ve gotten some relief and assurance that this person will not harm them again, they continue to relive those experiences.

“And that’s why we continue to campaign during 16 days but also throughout the year that the government needs to do a lot more to support survivors of gender-based violence.”

Asked if Amnesty International fights for young girls and boys when their partner abuses them and the cases are reported, Ojigho said: “…intimate partner violence is one of the most common and it might happen with married couples and can also happen with boyfriend, girlfriend, and even in casual relationships.

“This is what makes the intervention of the state quite blurry because sometimes I don’t know whether it is lovers’ quarrel or whether it’s a case of love gone sour. What we always tell them, is that treat this case as an individual and that this person has human rights.

“And if those rights are violated regardless of the relationship, you should make sure that they are treated right. In terms of Amnesty international, because our work is mostly around research and advocacy campaigning, we do not provide frontline services like many women’s rights groups who also have shelters.

“They also have counseling units, as much as possible. We use strategic interventions in order to throw light on the issues and also to drive the point home. We also provide training for women’ rights advocates and those who provide frontline services for victims of sexual and gender-based violence,” she retorted

Speaking further on how Amnesty international engages men in fighting against GBV, she said “For a long time, people thought that the issue of gender-based violence should be carried by women alone, but we have since realized that if society is going to move forward. Both men and women, boys and girls, need to participate in eliminating violence against women and girls.

“And this includes involving men in the decisions regarding prosecution, empowering them, but also encouraging them to speak to other men and boys so that they can recognize when behaviours are actually harming women and girls.

“It’s also important that in carrying the advocacy that boys and men see men visibly condemning this act, it shouldn’t be a woman’s affair. That is why today, even for this program, we have both men and women from the Amnesty international office, our supporters, and volunteers showing up to say enough is enough, we need to stop violence against women and girls, and gender-based violence needs to be a thing of the past. We need to make it unattractive, and the only way we can do that is if men and women, boys, work hand-in-hand together.”

Ojigho further urged the government to do better by investing in the capacity of the police investigation on GBV.

“One is an investment in the training and capacity of the police to investigate, document, and prosecute these crimes because that’s the beginning. We know all over the world sexual gender-based violence is difficult to prosecute, but if you have the tools, you make the chances of the perpetrators escaping limited.

“Right now, investigations are spoilt from the beginning. The other is to invest in education and training in schools, in our community. There’s still this idea that they need to mature men’s society which also creates stereotypes in terms of men having their way and women having to submit to them.

“We need to begin a reorientation. So we need to call to work in the National Orientation Agency, the Ministry of Women Affairs, the Minister for Sport, and its development to see how we can begin to change a narrative, of positive masculinity as well as empower women and girls to be full members of society.

“We started a few things a couple of years ago during the COVID-19 lockdown because everybody was at home, we had to find other ways through which we can continue our campaign.

“So, we increased campaigning on social media, we did a lot of social media advocacy on Instagram or Twitter, and we continued to have Instagram live on this conversation with people that appeal to the youths, appeal to women with a broader audience,” She finalized

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