Should we even ask why?

It is a question that bothers me–WHY? WHY do we ask WHY? Especially when we are dealing with issues of women and abuse?

While this thought has occurred to me for a long time, two recent discussions on “BBC Africa Have Your Say” – “Is Mob Justice Justified?” and another on “Pambazuka News Podcast” -“Interview with women in North Kivu” triggered my attention back to this issue. In the February 7 2008interview with female victims of sexual violence and activists, women respondents narrate their ordeal to a Pambazuka field reporter. On, “Is Mob Justice Justified” aired on BBC Africa Have Your Say Tuesday 25 March, most callers supported mob justice arguably because of police corruption and distrust of the criminal justice system. Opponents argued that mob justice could target innocent people, it is barbaric or it interferes with the criminal justice system. Do we really need to ask for justifiability of mob justice against a criminal or perpetrators of violent physical and sexual crimes against women? to ask about justifiability? Should we ask victims to heinous crimes to narrate their ordeal in front of news cameras, courts of law or even researchers?

Believe me, I am a practitioner and activist for criminal justice and allowing the law to take its course. I believe in the constitution and in the inherent rights of people as humans. However, certain things are simply too disgusting for me to fathom. Why should we give a chance to people who violently abuse women, whether sexually or physically to tell us why and how they committed their criminal acts? Especially men who randomly and recklessly abuse females during war, using sex as a weapon of power. Do these men have female siblings, wives, grandmothers, mothers or female friends? Should we really give them a chance to face international criminal tribunals to narrate how they violently inserted male sexual organs, sticks, guns or rough objects inside women’s sexual organs? You will excuse me for being too graphic but this form of abuse bothers me graphically. Why should we grill female victims of this gross sexual abuse to narrate their ordeal to us on Pambazuka news or BBC Africa Have Your Say?

I wonder how the interviewers feel when they look into the eyes of these women in Kivu telling their stories! Then there is the prosecutor who puts the male “suspect” on trial to tell the “international community” how he sexually brutalized the woman. In addition to the criminal or human rights lawyers who push their legal minds over their human minds in defense of the need to “pursue justice through courts of law. As human beings, a human rights activist and a woman, I do not think I would need to be told how brutal one is. I am not a psychopath to listen and defend the rights of psychopaths —like sex offenders.

Whose rights matter more, anyway —is it the human rights of criminal suspects or the human rights of victims of crime? How about if the conversation about defending human rights started this way? We would start by asking the victim if they would like to narrate their stories to reporters, the courts or researchers, instead of convincing them to tell us their stories in pursuit of our activities. One would argue that innocent people might be criminalized if we do not give them a chance to tell their story, as is often the case with old women accused of being witches and burnt to death or cast out of their homes or when power holders abuse their adversaries in the name of maintaining law and order. However, a line needs to be drawn between “suspects” and criminals caught in the act or physically identified by witnesses. The latter should not be branded suspects but given the punishment they deserve from the affected person(s). Their criminal rights will be respected once they are behind bars. If they do not make it into detention because the mob has taken its course, then their right to a decent burial can be respect. Then again, should our concern be about proportionality? I agree with those who believe in an “eye for an eye”, sometimes because it is an effective deterrence method for hardcore criminals. Thieves and perpetrators of violent crime caught red-handed deserve a deterrence method of punishment, such as cutting off his hand in Saudi Arabia, tying a big stone around his neck and rolling him over a cliff in Karamoja or stoning him to death. These methods have worked effectively in the African system, which is now slowly eroded with a court system that neither has time nor money to pursue all cases brought before it. In fact deterrent punishment has been borrowed in non-African forms of crime prevention in Uganda when the police run a campaign of shouting any armed thug caught in the act or arrested with lethal weapon. Although heavily criticized by many Uganda human rights groups and activists (including yours truly), it worked very well and eradicated Kampala of cold-blooded thugs. Besides, many people do not trust the courts and other organs of criminal justice because of their nature of operation which demands a lot of investment in terms of money, time, details and public sensitization. So, why not give the mob a chance to stone thieves caught red-handed to go down with their perpetrators? WHY should we ask WHY to men who brutalize women –sexually and physically?

A note about me: I am a PanAfricanist, and an Black Internationalist. I write about African Regionalism, Human Security, Higher Education, Migration and African International Relations