When Society is on the Wrong Side of Justice

Nov 30 , 2019
By Eden Sahle

Nothing breaks my heart more than hearing about the oppression of innocent people. Last week I came across one of the endless terrifying court cases handled by the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA). A 10-year-old girl was raped by a man working in a small shop, while she was at his shop to purchase an item.

The victim and her family were outcast and even forced to leave their neighbourhood, because they reported the crime committed by a man who is very well-known for a long time in the area. The community in the area were offended, because their long-time neighbour in the capital city was taken to justice for the crime he committed against a child. The community grieved, because the guilty man was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment.

The victim's family, who have a very low-income status, were pushed by the public in the area not to report the crime to the police. They had to pay a painful price for seeking justice. Respect for girls' and women's lives is lacking in Ethiopia, as violence against them is tolerated.

The family’s agony did not end, because the society took on the task of punishing the innocents. They were evicted from their rented house by a society that despises the victim. The child and her family are hated and tormented, while the guilty man, a danger to society, received compassion and care from the public who knew him.

How is tolerating crimes and obstructing justice a noble act?  Isn’t that encouraging offenders to repeat crimes? Why is it that perpetrators are tolerated by society, while they commit crimes with impunity?

As a lawyer and an individual who hopes to see universal human rights respected for everyone, it breaks my heart when I see laws being disregarded and society's wrong beliefs assisting criminals.

We live in a stubborn society that wrongly believes reporting rape and domestic violence cases to the police is a taboo. What is taboo should be rape and domestic violence, not fighting crime. What makes gender-based violence so unique in Ethiopia is it stems from both men and women. Sadly, there are women and men who deny the natural rights and freedoms of their own offspring, sisters, relatives and neighbours. They take part in crimes against women by obstructing justice and silencing victims. Society is nurturing harmful traditions and religious practices, helping crime to flourish.

Our unforgiving society pushes victims and their families to opt for pardon and keep crime a secret, favouring those who commit rape and other crimes against women. They intimidate and disparage women who are seeking justice. For the various forms of violence and abuse against women, we lack a robust justice system and have wrongful societal practices to blame.

The countless reports of gender-targeted heinous crimes should fill us all with grief, fear, anger and frustration. The violence is intensifying, because the implementation of laws is mediated by deeply entrenched societal problems that get in the way of gender parity. Thus, despite the notable strides made toward protecting girls and women in Ethiopia, they remain exposed to abuse.

Despite the painful challenges that are coming from all sides, I am so proud of organizations such as EWLA for speaking out and for lawfully fighting violence and oppression against women.

We should all be repulsed by the acts that have been perpetrated on women. Let us all play our part, so that normalizing violence and gender-based abuse does not become the norm.

Policies and laws alone can only go so far.  The public has to be able to meet it halfway and contribute its vital role. Offenders, after all, are the consequences of their surroundings. The more lawlessness prevails, and the more tolerant of violence the public is, the more crime will flourish. The public ought to respect the rule of law and the value of human lives with no discrimination whatsoever. If we all collaborate and work together to eliminate violence and unthinkable cruelty, we can create a country free of endless abuse.

If we want to be a society where human dignity is respected, lawlessness has to be addressed sooner rather than later. The public ought to actively take part to hold perpetrators to account. Lack of accountability for wrongdoings encourages more of it.

How exciting it is to see a society whose sense of humanity and kindness is ignited, knowing what it takes to save and protect lives and always choosing to do the right thing in the face of adversity.

Prevention should start early with children by educating and working with young boys and girls. Public policies and interventions often overlook this stage, but it is a critical time when values and norms around gender equality are appropriately shaped. Collaboration can remove the deeply rooted inequalities and social norms that perpetuate crimes against women, enforcing respect and care for one another.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 30,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1022]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at edensah2000@gmail.com.

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