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Archive for November 5th, 2013

Tanzania’s wife beaters: Ward tribunals have made it easy for survivors to report cases of gender based violence

Posted by African Press International on November 5, 2013

In Tanzania, most cases of domestic violence are never reported

DAR ES SALAAM, – Aisha*, a 35-year-old mother of six endured repeated, painful and humiliating violence from her husband until she reported the matter to the local village court, or ward tribunal.

The husband was fined and warned he would be taken to the police if he continued the abuse.

Ward tribunals were set up in the mid-1980s as part of efforts to devolve governance. They have a legal mandate to “secure peace and harmony… by mediating and endeavoring to obtain just and amicable settlement of disputes.”

Aisha, who lives with her family in Kijitonyama in the outskirts of the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, said she was satisfied with this form of restorative justice.

“I think I won because the beatings not only ended, but he was ordered to pay me money [the equivalent of US$100] to treat my injuries. We are a happy family now.”

It was not always so.

“It was bad because he would beat me anytime he came home drunk. He was jobless and I was providing for the family from my small business earnings.

“I decided to report him to these people because I feared the police,” Aisha told IRIN.

“As a woman, you feel helpless when you have nowhere to seek help when battered by a husband or you are raped,” Aisha said.

Ward tribunals are not proper courts: their members are drawn from the local community and need no special training, and there are no rules of evidence or procedure. Their priority is to see litigants resolve their own differences, but if that fails, they can impose measures such as public censures, fines, community work and even detention, although this has to be endorsed by a local magistrate.

“Most people fear the police but feel comfortable reporting to us because we are known to them and we have a legal backing because we are mandated by the government to do what we do. For cases that really need to proceed to the police, we provide the link”

“We don’t go looking for cases, but people come and report to us and we record those cases and carry out our own investigations to ascertain the truth. In cases where we feel the courts should be involved, we report to the police and we help push them forward,” Oscar Meck, chairman of one such ward in Dar es Salaam, told IRIN.

“Most people fear the police but feel comfortable reporting to us because we are known to them and we have a legal backing because we are mandated by the government to do what we do. For cases that really need to proceed to the police, we provide the link,” he added.

“However, we treat rape cases as an emergency and report them straight to the police so that victims can receive adequate and immediate medical attention.”

Reluctance to report to the police

Gender-based violence (GBV) is widespread in Tanzania, and it is seen as socially acceptable in most rural regions of the country.

Just over half of the 10,000 polled for the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey, said their husband would be justified in beating them if they did just one of the following: went out without telling him, neglected the children, argued, refused sex, or burnt the food.

According to the same survey, 44 percent of married women have experienced GBV from an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Such spousal abuse is rarely reported to the police.

“We have desks where women and girls can report cases of abuse and we even give the option of them being handled by a female police officer. I can’t say things are bad like before, but many women still think the police are not friendly,” Jumbe Makoye, a senior police officer, told IRIN.

There is no legislation in Tanzania which specifically outlaws domestic violence.

“Many women still feel the police will dismiss cases of domestic violence as private or some will ask for a bribe to even open a file,” Juniata Joseph, 27, told IRIN from her tailoring shop in Kariokor in downtown Dar es Salaam.

When the police are involved, cases “frequently follow a circuitous pathway,” according to the International Centre for Research on Women.

Ward tribunals have made it easy for survivors to report cases of gender based violence

“The result is an exceedingly slow, cumbersome process that neither prioritizes a survivor’s needs nor responds to violence as an emergency situation.”

A success?

Experts like Jovither Barongo, a GBV programme officer at Pathfinder International, a sexual and reproductive health NGO, told IRIN that ward tribunals provided an acceptable source of justice for domestic violence.

“I think the success of such tribunals have been aided by the ease with which they give the victims the opportunity to report. The fact people know they can summon perpetrators is in itself an effective deterrence,” Barongo said.

GBV perpetrators at times do so because they do not adequately understand the legal consequences of their actions, she added.

“If people are able to comprehend the legal repercussions of meting sexual and physical violence against women, they would stop. These committees have the opportunity to explain to perpetrators the consequences of their actions.”

A 2012 survey by the Legal Facility Services says: “Ward tribunals and village committees have limited resources and technical capacity to perform their functions, despite a strong commitment and a willingness on the part of community members to seek settlement of disputes outside the court system.”

Organizations like Pathfinder International have partnered with the government to build the capacity of the tribunals to effectively handle issues related sexual and gender-based violence.

A senior government official in the Ministry of Youth, Children, and Women, agreed.

“They need more support than they are receiving now. The members are there on a voluntary basis and receive no compensation at all. They need training on the relevant laws,” he said.

For some activists, cases such as Aisha’s should not be concluded at the village level.

“I think they [tribunals] should act as an avenue to receive people early enough before they go through the legal machinery. [But] serious cases like wife-battering should automatically be referred to the courts of law if victims are to receive fair justice,” Teodosia Muholo, executive director of the Women’s Legal Aid Centre, a local legal aid services NGO, told IRIN.

*not her real name

ko/cb  source

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Sri Lanka: Subair and his family call their home of more than 20 years “temporary”

Posted by African Press International on November 5, 2013

Subair and his family call their home of more than 20 years “temporary”

COLOMBO/BATTICALOA,  – Years after fighting ended in Sri Lanka – up to more than 20 years for some – tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes, a situation researchers say is unlikely to change soon.

recent report by the Colombo-based advocacy body Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2013 estimated that at least 94,400 “protracted” internally displaced persons (IDPs) who come mostly from minority Tamil and Muslim communities displaced by conflict, have not been able to return in a “meaningful” and “sustainable” way to their home villages.

Report author Mirak Raheem said the number may be higher due to the complex nature of protracted displacement where family members born in displacement have swelled the numbers of original IDPs.

The northwestern district of Puttalam is home to some 75,000 Muslims forced out of the Northern Province in 1990 by ethnic Tamil rebels who feared their rising political power.

Despite their large numbers, long-term IDPs – and their families – have received less attention than more recent displacements, Raheem said.

“There were and still are strong perceptions that the issue of protracted IDPs was not urgent and that they had found a solution… through settling in their place of displacement,” he told IRIN.

According to Raheem and researchers who worked on a report about the expulsion of Muslims published in November 2011, despite years of living with host communities, protracted IDPs still find themselves marginalized and bereft of assistance.

“Most of us still find it difficult to get a proper job, a proper government document, even 25 years since coming here,” said Abdul Matheen, a community leader working with Muslim IDPs in Puttalam. He fled his native Jaffna in October 1990.

Empty villages

In the eastern town of Valechchenei, Batticaloa District, Nahoor Lebbe Subair, a 36-year-old day labourer, said he struggles to provide for his family of six, including four school-aged children.

Displaced from his village, Vakaneri, in 1990 – just 4km from where he now lives – Subair said he and 25 other families cannot return because of lack of infrastructure back home.

“There is no water, schools or electricity there. Here we eat once to twice daily. Sometimes we just go hungry,” Subair said. He makes US$4-$4.50 on days he can find work, but says he needs $4.50 for food alone. To make ends meet he has borrowed heavily from relatives and neighbours.

“The only collateral we have is trust,” he said.

The nearby village of Jabbar Thidaval (Vakaneri Division) is largely empty of the 1,500 families (Tamils and Muslims) who fled violence in the late 1990s.

Former resident Islama Lebbe Mohamed Musthafa, 50, told IRIN residents’ land deeds were not honoured.

“We went back in 2002 and by 2004 had eviction notices on our doors.” Two families have unofficially resettled.

Government response

Piencia Charles, the top government official in Batticaloa District, which includes the above villages, told IRIN she has instructed village level officials to collect all relevant data on the displaced who are still unable to return.

She acknowledged there have been “complications” in recognizing returnees’ land deeds. “Some don’t have deeds, but have voter registrations. In other cases there is a deed, but someone else is living on the land and registered as a voter,” Charles said.

“Once we collect the data [on the displaced], maybe by early next year, then we will decide what we can do to resettle these people. We might have to set up a special land unit to [examine and settle disagreements over] the deeds and other documentation,” she added.

Government officials in Northern Province said there are no “special” plans for protracted IDPs, but that anyone returning to their villages can apply for housing and other assistance once they prove displacement, said Rupvathi Ketheeswaran, the top government official in the northern district of Kilinochchi.

Up until late 2012 IDPs received $200 worth of supplies when they returned to their villages. This has been discontinued, since officially there are no more IDPs. For housing, the maximum grant financed by the Indian government is 550,000 rupees ($4,200) for full construction and Rs 225,000 for repair ($1,700).

With donor funding in the north and northeast dwindling, Raheem said, the situation for those like Subair may worsen.

“Donor financial support has played a crucial role in humanitarian work and now it will be incumbent on the government to fill the gap.”

Three successive appeals by the UN and Sri Lankan government for reconstruction work in the former conflict zone have run into shortfalls of over $430 million since 2010. The next appeal is expected in early 2014.

A survey by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in June conducted in six northern districts found that over a quarter of the 990 families interviewed said they were still not able to access their own land, primarily due to military occupation, a grievance the military has questioned.

“The Armed Forces are very sensitive to the issue of land as we understand very clearly that it is a matter that affects the population sentiments. We will not hold on to any land that is not required to safeguard national security interests,” military spokesperson Ruwan Wanigasooriya wrote in a recent note sent to journalists.

UNHCR also reported 32 percent of surveyed people living in their pre-war homes, 57 percent in transitional or emergency shelters, while the remainder were with host families.

Report author Raheem said the government can ease difficulties for the still-displaced by streamlining the issuance of new legal documents, to help them prove land ownership, for example.

The national government maintains there are no longer any IDPs since the country’s largest IDP camp closed in September 2012, a claim community workers – and the 1983-2009 war-affected themselves – strongly dispute.

“It’s a lie. Who are we?” asked Subair, speaking from Valechchenei.

ap/pt/cb source

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