Women and Law in Southern Africa Zimbabwe conducted a survey on the effectiveness of the justice delivery system in Zimbabwe in Harare, Chitungwiza, Beitbridge and Goromonzi. There was consensus among the stakeholders that the rate of convictions in Sexual and Gender Based Violence(SGBV) cases is unacceptably low. The perception that offenders are getting away with it leads to injustice and trauma for the victims. Potential offenders are emboldened and victims and communities feel disempowered. The reasons for this state of affairs exists in several parts of the justice delivery system.
Below are challenges and recommendations pertaining to justice delivery in regards to investigation, prosecution, victim support and adjudication of SGBV cases:
Challenges faced at Investigation stage
- The Victim Friendly Comiittee expressed concern that police officers feel constrained in carrying out investigations of SGBV cases by the lack of resources.
- SGBV cases should be reported in 72 hours. This window period is optimal not only to enable administration of critical health interventions like PEP and EC, but also for collecting forensic evidence. Often police officers assigned to SGBV cases do not have access to police vehicles. They have to use public transport or rely on the complainant to arrange for transport to ferry them to the scene of investigation. The resulting delays inevitably lead to loss and degradation of physical evidence
- The successful prosecution of SGBV cases requires physical evidence of good quality. This evidence should be collected and preserved through rape kits, yet there is a general shortage of these kits. Further, the specimens that police manage to collect such as body fluids and tissue face a further challenge in that often there are no national resources to subject them to the appropriate laboratory tests.
- Scientific advances in DNA analysis have been greatly successful in solving crimes in other countries. Zimbabwe has yet to integrate DNA forensics into its justice delivery system. DNA services are offered by private sector players at a cost which is so high that it puts them out of the risk of ordinary people
- SGBV is a crime and must be reported to the police and the perpetrator punished. Some of the SGBV takes place in families. Children and young people are often sexually abused by family members. It was reported that where this is the case, police efforts to investigate the case are sometimes hindered by family interference. Family members are often conflicted. While they want justice, they may not want the perpetrator to be prosecuted especially if there is a risk of a jail term as this may lead to loss of a family breadwinner and dishonour to the entire family. Families might opt for conciliatory processes which do not really address the victim’s needs for justice and the effectiveness of which is not monitored objectively by experts.
- It is also a challenge in cases of SGBV involving a female young person, the family might find it more preferable to pressure the perpetrator to marry the victim instead of reporting the matter to the police. The family might only involve the police as a way of exerting pressure on the perpetrator to acquiesce to demand for lobola or seduction damages. Once the family loses interest in pursuing the criminal law route, police investigations become severely constrained. Should the lobola / seduction damages negotiations fail the family might still want to pursue the criminal law route but by that time, critical forensic evidence would have been lost.
- Basic resources such as transport and rape kits must be availed to the police. WLSA and other organisations working in the areas of gender should collaborate in advocacy activities targeted at policy makers to ensure that in the allocation of national resources, the resources that that are needed for justice delivery in SGBV cases are prioritised and availed.
- There is need for ongoing service and pre service training of police officers on victim friendly policing for GBV in general and SGBV in particular.
- DNA analysis should be integrated in the justice delivery process and availed. The protocols for collection and analysis of DNA forensic evidence should be developed and enacted.
- Police efforts should be complimented by community awareness programmes on the rights of women and children to minimise interference with police work by family members wanting to protect male perpetrators from facing the law